Marco Muzzo will have the right answers this time. That’s the one perk of flunking the test the first time and getting a do-over: The questions won’t change and, this time, he’ll know how to answer them.
Approximately two months from now, the convicted drunk driver will make his second bid for parole. By then, it will be about 4½ years since he got in his Jeep with a blood alcohol level more than twice the legal limit and destroyed an entire family. On that September afternoon in 2015, Mr. Muzzo blew through a stop sign in Vaughan, Ont., collided with a minivan and killed all three of the Neville-Lake children – Daniel, 9, Harry, 5, and Milly, 2 – along with their grandfather, Gary Neville. Their grandmother and great-grandmother were also injured.
Mr. Muzzo pleaded guilty to four counts of impaired driving causing death and two counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm, for which he was sentenced to 10 years in prison, to be followed by a 12-year driving ban. If he is granted parole in April, he would have served about one year for each death behind bars.
Mr. Muzzo’s case is just one example of the relative tolerance with which the Canadian justice system treats the decision to drive impaired. That he has the court’s permission to get behind the wheel again at all speaks to the absurd leniency of a system that seems imprudently focused on recidivism. Indeed, Mr. Muzzo will have to get caught driving drunk a couple more times to potentially earn himself a lifetime ban on driving (even though he has previously admitted to driving impaired “a small handful of times”).
And yet, the family left behind – in this case, Jennifer Neville-Lake, who lost both her father and her children, and Edward Lake, the children’s father – has had no reprieve from the name “Marco Muzzo” since the day of the collision. In theory, the 10-year sentence handed down by Ontario Superior Court Justice Michelle Fuerst in March, 2016, would have offered the family some time away from the system to grieve. In practice, it was less than three years before the parents were back before the justice system, testifying to their grief during Mr. Muzzo’s first application for parole in November, 2018.
The parole board denied that request, citing Mr. Muzzo’s “lack of understanding on the issue of impairment” (he told the board he thought he would need to consume eight or nine drinks to consider himself impaired), his lack of transparency over a previous incident of binge drinking that involved an altercation with police, as well as the need for him to participate in addiction programs while in prison. Mr. Muzzo has since had about a year and a half to work on his answers. No doubt he’ll have the correct ones by the time April comes around.
The Neville-Lake family, meanwhile, is afforded no peace (to the extent to which anyone can find peace after losing a child – let alone three). For the second time since Mr. Muzzo went to prison just a few years ago, the family will have to confront the possibility of the man who took away their children’s lives being released, and again speak before strangers about his devastating impact on their family.
Parole plays an important role in the justice system in terms of rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders into society, but the burden it places on victims’ family members – who usually feel compelled to provide statements or attend hearings – means they are rarely more than a few years away from reliving what is likely the worst moment of their lives. Those families become inadvertent, perpetual casualties of the system.
In 2015, the Conservatives tabled Life Means Life legislation, which would have eliminated the possibility of parole for the perpetrators of some of the most heinous crimes (the bill died when a federal election was called). Critics of the proposed law decried it as merely an election nugget, which it probably was, as well as rather pointless, which it mostly was, since the most vicious of offenders (those convicted of first-degree murder involving sexual assault or kidnapping, for example) often don’t get parole anyway. But the small, if meaningful, material effect of the change would have been to spare victims’ families from having to endure the parole process, which can be retraumatizing and excruciatingly difficult.
That legislation wouldn’t have applied to Mr. Muzzo, but it did serve to highlight the very real impact that parole hearings have on families, which is something that is often overlooked when we talk about rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders. The Neville-Lake family has already endured one of the worst things humans can experience. It seems doubly cruel that, every couple of years, the justice system would call them in to speak to it again.
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