British Columbia

Relatives of woman whose death sparked MMIW's memorial march want changes in the justice system

Cheryl Ann Joe, a young mother of three small boys, had her dreams of becoming a police officer cut short when she was killed by Brian Allender in 1992.

Brutal death of Cheryl Ann Joe sparked MMIW Valentine's Day March that now draws large crowds to Vancouver

Cheryl Ann Joe was murdered in East Vancouver in 1992. Her death inspired the Women's Memorial March, which is now in its 26th year. (Melodie Casella)

Cheryl Ann Joe was a young mother of three small boys from the Sechelt community on the Sunshine Coast of B.C.

The 26-year-old Coast Salish woman — with an infectious laugh and a big heart — was planning a career as a police officer, to help protect Vancouver's vulnerable, when her dreams were cut short.

Joe was murdered on Jan. 20, 1992, her mutilated body found dumped near a warehouse loading dock in East Vancouver.

Her killer, Brian Allender, assaulted Joe for up to two hours before she died, according to police reports — just one of many unimaginable details relatives have learned through the Parole Board of Canada.

Joe's murder sparked the annual Women's Memorial March in Vancouver, which now draws large crowds every Valentine's Day.

"We didn't want it just to be about Cheryl — her mother Linda Joe wanted it to be about all of the women whose lives were taken," said Joe's cousin Melodie Casella.

This year is the first time Joe's family has spoken at length about their connection to the march.

More than two decades later they continue to grapple with what they call "flaws" in the justice system.

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      Outrage over offender using Indigenous programs

      Allender, who is currently serving a life sentence at the Mountain Institution in Agassiz B.C., had his first parole hearing this winter.

      The board had approved an "elder assisted hearing," in which an Indigenous elder came in to pray and offer support for the offender attempting parole.

      Joe's family was outraged.

      "We found this completely heart wrenching, that he, a Caucasian man who killed an Indigenous woman would use our culture against us," said Joe's aunt Gertie Pierre who raised Joe and then her three boys when she died.

      Elder assisted hearings are part of what is loosely known as following "the red path" by Corrections Canada. It refers to prisoners using various programs involving Indigenous traditions and ceremonies.

      Gertie Pierre, left is the aunt of Cheryl Ann Joe, Melodie Casella is her cousin. Both hope the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women will address their concerns with victims' rights in the justice system. (Melodie Casella)

      These programs were started in the 1990s for Indigenous people, but over time Corrections has allowed all inmates, regardless of their ancestry, to participate.

      "One of the core values of Aboriginal spirituality is inclusiveness, so it kind of came from within [the Aboriginal community]," Parole Board spokesperson Patrick Storey said.

      In Allender's case, because the family was so outraged, on the day of the parole hearing, the board denied him the elder assisted hearing — a small victory for Joe's family.

      'He is still not accountable'

      Earlier this year, the parole board also denied Allender's request for day and full parole.

      However, recent parole board documents show that Allender has already been on 59 work releases. Most were in other institutions, but seven were in the community, under escort.

      "He was granted this 'right' even though he verbally is not accountable for his actions and 25 years later he still blames the movie The Silence of the Lambs for his actions," Casella said.

      Casella was only registered through Victim's Services in March of last year and was told that's why the family was not consulted prior to Allender's previous work releases.

      Now that she is, Casella hopes to have more of a say.

      Allender recently withdrew his latest request to for an escorted temporary release, after the family expressed concerns.

      Gertie Pierre wears a shirt in memory of her niece Cheryl Ann Joe at an event in North Vancouver in 2014. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

      Family hopes 'flaws' addressed at national inquiry

      Last month, on the 25th anniversary of Joe's murder, Pierre got a call from the parole board that stunned her.

      "We were told three of our victim impact statements with our full names were given to another offender at Mountain [Institution]," Pierre said.

      Allender, like any offender seeking parole, is given the victim impact statements prior to a hearing. But this time, those statements were accidently handed to the wrong inmate.

      The parole board confirmed the privacy breach, calling it "rare" and "serious."

      "The staff member who did this was called on to the carpet and consequences of their actions were shared which include very negative effects on victims," Storey said.

      Casella and Pierre still want further investigation into the risk the breach may have had on their family.

      They hope the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women can address victim's right's within the justice system — and parole hearings in particular.

      "Cheryl wanted to make a difference, and she was always the older cousin who protected us," Casella said.

      "It is my hope that we can now protect others in her memory."