Change required at Correctional Services

Will the federal government take real action to improve Correctional Services of Canada following the McClintic case review?

Tori Stafford was eight years old in April 2009 when, while walking home from school in Woodstock Ontario, she was lured into a vehicle by an 18 year old young woman named Terri-Lynne McClintic. McClintic drove the little girl to a field where her boyfriend, Michael Rafferty, raped the child repeatedly and McClintic refused to help stop the horrific abuse despite pleas from Tory for help. Instead, McClintic helped Rafferty throughout his abuse including going into a store and purchasing the hammer that was used to kill her and the garbage bags ultimately used to bury her.

Thanks in part to surveillance footage, McClintic was identified early as a suspect and ultimately confessed to the police and pleaded guilty to first degree murder in April 2010 where she was sentenced to the legally mandatory life imprisonment without eligibility for parole for 25 years (although she can seek early release after 15 years thanks to a now repealed section of the Criminal Code that still applies to her). McClintic subsequently testified against her boyfriend who was also convicted of first-degree murder. Two years after her conviction, McClintic was also convicted of a brutal assault against another inmate.

As such, Canadians were rightly outraged recently when it was revealed by Tori Stafford’s father, that McClintic has had her security classification reduced to medium and has been transferred to an aboriginal hearing lodge in Saskatchewan which has a supposed joint ‘medium-minimum’ security status. The family only learned of McClintic’s transfer to the aboriginal healing centre a few weeks ago when, as required by s. 26(1)(c) of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, Correction Services of Canada (CSC) advised the family that McClintic was seeking one day temporary absences from custody every week for the upcoming year.

It was only then apparently that it was revealed by CSC that the ‘facility’ she wanted release from was not the medium security penitentiary with lock up cells and razor wire fencing they thought she was in, but rather a ‘healing lodge’ which has neither of those security measures and which welcomes children of offenders on the premises. We have also now learned that the local First Nation on which the healing lodge is located was never consulted (as required by law) about the transfer.  

Not surprisingly, the case has generated huge public controversy, and exploded into a political crisis when the normally prudent Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale tried to minimize the issue by referring to McClintic’s horrific murderous crime as previous ‘bad practices’. Two days after this blunder Minister Goodale did the right thing when he directed…or ‘asked’ …CSC to conduct a review of McClintic’s transfer process specifically and of CSC policy generally regarding security classifications and transfers of inmates like McClintic. That review is underway but it is being conducted behind closed doors and will result in CSC reviewing itself, which is not a good idea.

Late last week, Minister Goodale announced that he expects to be receiving the report from the commissioner soon and that it will contain “some significant recommendations.”  

Irrespective of CSC’s self-analysis, the Government needs to learn from this case and take specific and substantive actions including:

  • Giving the federal Victims Ombudsman a statutory mandate to investigate victim complaints against Correctional Services of Canada;
  • Amending the Correctional and Conditional Release Act and the Regulations enacted thereunder to:
    – Require notification of registered victims of defined offences of security reduction or transfer
    – Provide victims with relevant offender information and opportunity to make submissions in transfer decisions
    – Include consideration of principles of sentencing in transfer decision making
    – Prohibit defined offender placement in dual medium/minimum security facilities
    – Mandate indigenous consultation for healing lodge transfer and consent for non- indigenous inmate transfer
  • Amending s. 746.1(2) of the Criminal Code by adding (d) to prohibit defined offender transfer to minimum security facility in specified time frames

The Canadian criminal justice system is a complex process that includes multiple entities, and which balances different principles through a largely discretionary decision-making process. Critical components of this public system are public safety, respect for victims, offender rehabilitation and transparency and accountability. Thanks to the courage and determination of the Stafford family we now have an opportunity to learn from what happened in the McClintic case and to make effective improvements. It is an opportunity that must be acted upon if real justice remains our goal. 

Nov 7 update:

It is encouraging to see that the recent directions from Minister Goodale are relevant to the issues that have been identified in the McClintic case including targeted restrictions for select offender transfers and mandated consultation with indigenous communities in healing lodge transfers. While these appear to be steps in the right direction, noticeably absent is a commitment to providing victims with the relevant information relating to a possible security reduction or the transfer of an offender in defined circumstances. As always, in matters involving CSC, we'll need to see the fine print to assess the real impact of these announced changes. 

It appears McClintic's transfer is being reviewed under new policies (there was no consultation with the indigenous community in advance of the transfer) and Goodale's statement that victims are advised of location or transfer, is not what s. 26(1)(b) of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act says, as I pointed out above, which is why the law needs to be changed so victims get input into the decision and the public gets some systemic accountability.

Nov 8 update:

A Facebook status posted today by father of murdered eight-year-old Tori Stafford says he has been told that his daughter's killer, Terri-Lynne McClintic, is back behind bars following her controversial transfer to a healing lodge in Saskatchewan earlier this year.

Nov 14 update:

According to new data released by Public Safety Canada, nearly two dozen child murderers have been sent to Indigenous healing lodges since 2011. Of the 21 child murderers who have been transferred to healing lodges since 2011, 14 were transferred there under the Conservative government and the remaining by the Trudeau government.

Scott Newark is a former Alberta Crown Prosecutor who has also served as Executive Officer of the Canadian Police Association, Vice Chair of the Ontario Office for Victims of Crime, Director of Operations for Investigative Project on Terrorism and as a Security Policy Advisor to the governments of Ontario and Canada.