The Opposition Conservatives have been hammering away at the Trudeau government about the case of Terri-Lynne McClintic, the woman who abducted an eight-year-old girl in 2009 so that her boyfriend could fulfill his perverse desire to have sex with a child.
The couple took Victoria (Tori) Stafford to a secluded area outside Woodstock, Ont., where Ms. McClintic stood by as her boyfriend, Michael Rafferty, twice raped the little girl. Ms. McClintic then beat the child to death with a hammer and hid the body in the woods.
Ms. McClintic could not have committed a more shocking and evil crime. She pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, after she led police to the girl’s remains and provided evidence against her partner. She was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole until 2035. Mr. Rafferty was given the same sentence after a trial.
We had hoped to never think about Ms. McClintic again but, earlier this year, she was transferred from a women’s prison in Ontario to an Indigenous healing lodge on a remote First Nations reserve in Saskatchewan. Both are run by Correctional Service Canada; both are minimum- to medium-security facilities. The fact of her transfer was discovered by the victim’s father, Rodney Stafford, late last month. He was understandably upset and went to the media.
That leads us back to Parliament, where the Opposition’s demand that Ms. McClintic be returned to a more traditional prison setting has dominated Question Period this week.
Ralph Goodale, the Minister of Public Safety, has ordered Correctional Service Canada to review the transfer, but the government has so far refused to take direct action in the matter, as the Conservatives insist it must.
We understand the outrage felt by so many people, including Woodstock police Chief Bill Renton. He led the painful investigation into Tori Stafford’s disappearance and murder; we share his sense that Ms. McClintic was moved to a “privileged program” that her brutal crimes should disqualify her from enjoying, at least during the early years of her long incarceration. Correctional Service Canada should review the transfer in that light.
But we also feel obliged to defend the CSC by showing what a difficult job it has, and to point out how the Conservative Party has made that job harder, thanks to its hard-on-crime branding and the poor policies it implemented during the Harper years.
What is probably little understood by many Canadians is that Ms. McClintic will be the responsibility of Correctional Service Canada until she dies. That is what a life sentence means. Even if she is granted parole after 2035, her liberty will always be supervised to some degree.
This is a big burden for the prison system, one that compounds its existing obligations to house and care for thousands of inmates, and to rehabilitate those inmates so that they are no longer a threat to the public when they return to society, as almost all of them will.
No doubt the decision to transfer Ms. McClintic, however ill-advised, was done with her rehabilitation in mind. Moving inmates from higher to lower security, and finally to a supervised release in the community, is not so much a question of granting privileges as it is the best way of turning convicted criminals into law-abiding citizens.
So how did the Conservatives make that job more difficult? By heedlessly bringing in about 60 mandatory minimum sentences during the Harper years that contributed to a growth in prison populations even as crime rates were falling. Research has shown that mandatory minimums do not deter crime or reduce violence, but they are very good at filling overcrowded prisons and straining limited resources.
It is easy to go on the attack in Parliament when the prison system makes a mistake, or to play tough on crime by implementing mandatory minimums – a number of which, it should be said, have since been overturned by the courts on the grounds they constituted cruel and unusual punishment.
What is more difficult, and what the Conservative Party of Canada has never done, is to seek ways to improve a system that is underfunded and overcrowded; that houses a hugely disproportionate number of Indigenous inmates; and which has become a dumping ground for people with mental illnesses. The Conservatives are quick to shake a finger in outrage, but they have nothing to offer to a complex issue that needs serious attention.