Mom seeking distinct penalties for killers of children urges families to speak up

A woman whose young son was beaten to death by his father says other families who've experienced domestic violence are too scared to speak out in favour of tougher penalties for criminals convicted of killing children.

Allisan Tucker has been pushing for Criminal Code changes since her son was killed by his father in 2010

Allisan Tucker and her son, Matthew, are seen in this undated handout photo. (Allisan Tucker via Canadian Press)

A woman whose young son was beaten to death by his father says other families that have experienced domestic violence are too scared to speak out in favour of distinct penalties for criminals convicted of killing children. 

Allisan Tucker has been advocating for changes to the Criminal Code since her three-year-old son, Matthew, was killed by his father, James Peter-Paul, in 2010. 

Peter-Paul was originally charged with second-degree murder, an offence which carries a minimum sentence of life in prison with no parole for 10 years.

He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2012, but granted full parole last May. A conviction of manslaughter carries no minimum sentence unless a firearm is involved.

Scared families

At first, Tucker said she received vocal support for amendments to the Criminal Code from other families with histories of domestic violence, but that has since changed.

"They were saying, 'We need justice, this isn't right, we need to fix it,'" she said.

"But now some of the families, either they're hard to contact, they don't want to talk to anybody ... or the ones that do talk, they're supportive and they think it's great, but they're not willing to publicly speak about their stories anymore."

Matthew Peter-Paul was beaten to death by his father in 2010 at the age of three. (Submitted)

Tucker said she's been reaching out specifically to those families because of her own experience and the fact that a child who dies at the hands of a parent is a victim of "a particularly heinous crime."

She said she believes domestic and spousal abuse are to blame for the silence.

"The families are just scared," she said.

"They would rather just leave it alone.... Even though I've tried to make it very clear we're not trying to reopen cases or attack killers. We're just trying to change the law so that maybe people think twice before doing something."

Allisan Tucker says families who've experienced domestic and spousal abuse are reluctant to speak up. (CBC)

The federal Justice Department has said the Criminal Code already comprehensively prohibits all forms of child abuse, assault and murder and committing such an offence against a child is an aggravating factor at sentencing.

Political support

Tucker has received support from Andy Fillmore, the Liberal MP for Halifax, as well as her representative in the legislature, Brendan Maguire. She said both have written letters on her behalf to federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould

Maguire, the Liberal MLA for Halifax Atlantic, said Tucker approached him about her efforts to change the law and he was moved by her story.

MLA Brendan Maguire says Allisan Tucker's story is every parent's worst nightmare. (CBC)

"Allisan is someone who, I don't think I would have her strength and I really mean that," said Maguire, recalling how Tucker came to his office bearing photos of children who've been killed.

"She's taking on the voices of dozens and dozens of people right across Canada, people who are too afraid for one reason or another to speak out."

Mapping out a plan

Maguire said he and Fillmore are trying to help Tucker determine how she should proceed.

"Obviously maybe not everything she is going to ask for will happen, but we want to make sure changes are made that she feels are appropriate to have the victims' voices ... heard," he said.

Andy Fillmore, the Liberal MP for Halifax, says the federal justice minister is leading a full review of the Criminal Code. (CBC)

Fillmore said Tucker called him at an opportune time because Wilson-Raybould is leading a full review of the Criminal Code and he was seeking input from constituents.

He said he has yet to receive a response from Wilson-Raybould to his letter.

'Try to be brave'

"I think there's a really earnest listening posture right now by the attorney general on this and I will continue to talk to her as well as my caucus mates, other Nova Scotia caucus members, to make a good change here," said Fillmore.

Tucker said she welcomes support from anyone who has experienced violence against children, including survivors.

She said other families don't need to be involved in her quest to make changes to the code, but she believes it could help them heal.

"I think if other people could just try to be brave about it and share their story, I think it would help them, too," she said.

with files from Kayla Hounsell