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Kaitlynne Schoenborn, 10; Max Schoenborn, 8; and Cordon Schoenborn, 5, are shown in a composite image taken from framed picture at the memorial wall in Merritt, B.C on Thursday April 10, 2008.

It was the kind of headline tailor-made for a wedge issue in a lacklustre federal election: Man who killed his three children granted supervised leave - on the third anniversary of the murders.

But it was not the law-and-order federal Conservatives who leapt to question the BC Review Board's approval of Allan Schoenborn's request for escorted leave from the psychiatric hospital where he's been confined since being found not criminally responsible in the brutal slayings of his three children, Kaitlynne, 10, Max, 8, and Cordon, 5.

Instead it was the provincial New Democrats who did so, specifically leadership candidate Mike Farnworth, who is that rarest of creatures: a law-and-order left-winger.

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The psychiatric hospital is in Mr. Farnworth's riding, which is perhaps part of the reason the MLA felt the need to speak out. But Mr. Farnworth has a long record of a tough stand on justice issues. He sees no contradiction between advocating for a social-justice program that addresses the roots of crime, and a stance that says that lawbreakers shouldn't be coddled. "There's a consequence side," said Mr. Farnworth, who describes his position not as left- or right-wing, but as "common sense."

Defence lawyers last week publicly scoffed at the idea that Mr. Schoenborn should be denied supervised leave, saying he is a patient, not a criminal. (Though found not criminally responsible, he was convicted of the murders. But his diagnosed mental illness means his incarceration is focused on treatment.) Mr. Farnworth rejected that assessment in his characteristically blunt approach. "Let me put it this way: He killed three kids. That in my mind, is what it's all about. It's not whether he's a patient or a criminal," he said, going on to say it was "completely insensitive" for the board to announce its decision on the anniversary of the killings.

The issue of Mr. Schoenborn's leave did not come up during the Saturday NDP leadership debate. And Mr. Farnworth has given no indication that he would make Mr. Schoenborn a campaign issue, though he does say he would like to see an appeal process created for review board decisions.

But it's not hard to see how Mr. Farnworth, should he win the leadership in the April 17 vote, could use his relatively tough stance on justice issues to great effect in a general election, which could come as early as this fall. If Mr. Farnworth does win the leadership, his approach to crime issues could be the kind of stereotype-shattering stance that has largely eluded the BC NDP since their 2001 electoral rout. Crime could be the left-wing equivalent of Gordon Campbell's carbon tax, which blurred the NDP's claim on green issues - and gave the BC Liberals the edge needed to secure victory in 2009.

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