Ontario probation officers are often "handcuffed" to their desks fulfilling administration duties rather than supervising offenders in the community like the public expects them to, their union head told CBC News.
Basil Borutski was on probation when he allegedly killed three women in eastern Ontario on Tuesday, including one ex-girlfriend he had been convicted of choking and another he had been convicted of threatening. He also refused to sign a probation order to stay away from one of those women.
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Gord Longhi, a probation officer for 25 years and current union leader, said there's no way of knowing what impact a probation officer could have had in the preventing the three deaths.
He said that when probation officers are able to keep a close eye on offenders — especially by doing home visits — they can help prevent tragedies, but said an understaffed department limits their ability to do so.
"We should be able to know what these people are doing in their homes and out in the community," he said. "Most officers rarely get out on home visits anymore. I'd be surprised if most officers do a couple a year."
An Ontario auditor general report released last December found that 23.6 per cent of offenders that are supervised in the community re-offend.
'Smoke and mirrors'
Probation officers do risk assessments specifically for offenders in domestic violence cases, but the auditor general's report found those reports were not always completed in a timely way.
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Longhi said the workload is too great.
"Our union has been fighting for more resources and better staffing for well over 20 years because we simply don't have enough officers to do the job that the public thinks that we're doing or should be doing," he said.
"Ontario has some of the best standards and policies across all of Canada but the problem is, it's like having the best ship in a navy and not having enough sailors to operate it. It's really almost an exercise in futility."
If officers can't properly supervise offenders in the community, the public is not safe, he said.
"It's nice to have strong and robust policies around these things but if you don't have the staff to deliver it, all you're really doing is a smoke-and-mirrors show for the public. They think they're safer when in fact they're not," he said.
The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services refused to answer questions about the findings of the auditor general report or about what measures are in place to ensure victims of domestic violence are protected.
"Our thoughts and condolences go out to the families and friends of the victims of Tuesday's tragic events. As there is an ongoing police investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment further," ministry spokesperson Brent Ross told CBC News in an email Friday.