British Columbia

Serena Vermeersch slaying: Peter MacKay says worst criminals shouldn't be freed

Justice Minister Peter MacKay says the Canadian government is considering new rules to lock up certain violent criminals and throw away the key, as family and friends grieve 17-year-old Serena Vermeersch, who was killed last week in Surrey, B.C., allegedly by a known violent offender.

Justice minister says parole reforms on way; Surrey mayor says accused should never have been released

Federal minister of justice vows that his government is seeking tougher sentencing and parole reforms 2:56

Justice Minister Peter MacKay says the Canadian government is considering new rules to lock up certain violent criminals and throw away the key, as family and friends grieve Serena Vermeersch, the 17-year-old who was killed last week in Surrey, B.C., allegedly by a known violent offender.

We’re looking at ways in which the very worst... that they’re never released.- Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay

Vermeersch's body was discovered last Tuesday night near a set of railroad tracks in Surrey's East Newton neighbourhood, and high-risk sex offender Raymond Lee Caissie​, 43, has been charged with second-degree murder in her death.

Caissie was released from prison in 2013 after serving 22 years for a violent sexual assault.

Serena Vermeersch, 17, was found dead the night of Sept. 16. (RCMP)

Today, following question period in the House of Commons, MacKay told reporters his government is taking steps to to reform the parole system and will push for tougher sentencing.

"The Vermeersch family are certainly right now grieving, but they want to hear that offenders will be held fully accountable when they commit these most heinous crimes. And so the worst of the worst deserve serious consequences, and that’s what our government has committed" to, he said.

MacKay said that the criminal justice system will always operate within a framework of rehabilitation and that some offenders will be released after serving their sentences, but that the scene must be set foremost for the protection of the public.

"As you know, for certain types of offences, parole conditions continue. For others, when they’re released at warrant expiry, they’re released. And so we are looking at legislation," he said.

"We are looking at ways in which we can toughen the parole provisions, but also we’re looking at ways in which the very worst, those who are most violent, those who have committed offences, murder, in concert with other violent offences against the public and the individual, that they’re never released."

Mayor questions man's release into her city

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts is also reacting to the news of the Caissie's arrest and charge of second-degree murder, and says she is outraged that he was released into her community last year.

Watts said she first raised concern about Caissie when he was released from prison in June 2013 after serving 22 years for the assault and unlawful confinement of a 21-year-old Abbotsford museum worker in 1991.

Raymond Lee Caissie​, a high-risk sex offender who was released from prison last year after serving 22 years for a violent sexual assault, has been charged with murder in Vermeersch's death. (RCMP)

"When he was released, I had some significant concerns and I have significant concerns any time there is a warning issued that an individual being released has a high potential to re-offend," said Watts on Monday.

At the time of his release in 2013, Surrey RCMP issued a statement warning the public of a “high-risk sexual offender” loose in the community.

"Caissie has maintained a varied pattern of offending, having offended both violently and sexually, in both an opportunistic and impulsive manner," the RCMP said in the 2013 news release.

“He is to be supervised by the Surrey Probation Office and is being monitored by the Surrey RCMP."

CBC News has learned Caissie was living in an apartment just off King George Highway in Surrey's Whalley neighbourhood until recently. He was arrested last year for theft.

'You know he's going to re-offend'

Watts, who recently announced plans to seek the Conservative nomination for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale in the 2015 federal election, said it's unacceptable that a man with Caissie's reputation moved to her community.

"We have a third of our population under the age of 19 and now you've got a high-risk sex offender that has spent 22 years in jail for forcible confinement and rape," she said.

This photo of Raymond Lee Caissie was released by the Matsqui Police Department after he was charged with the brutal sex attack on an MSA Museum employee in 1991. (Matsqui Police Department)

Watts is questioning how high-risk offenders are dealt with once they finish their sentences.

"Given the nature of his incarceration and offences, all of those things, you know he's going to re-offend — he can't be released," said Watts.

"The general public, their safety has to come first and foremost. I don't know how you can get around that. Right now the laws don't permit that, so therefore the laws need to be changed."

Tim Veresh, who speaks for the John Howard Society of the Lower Mainland, which helps reintegrate convicted criminals once released, said there is often more of a focus on catching people and less on what happens after.

"It's an area for us to think about, not only when we invest in managing or supervising or assisting police with their funding to arrest individuals, it's also what services are going into support and supervision in the community?" said Veresh.

Pickup truck driver still sought

Meanwhile, homicide investigators say they're still looking for the person who drove away from the area where the Surrey teen's body was found.

Investigators have issued a public plea for information about a man seen in a Dodge pickup truck near some train tracks just before the teen's body was found.

Staff Sgt. Jennifer Pound of the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team said police have not yet identified the driver but they would like to speak with him.

Caissie scheduled to be back in court on Oct. 2.

With files from the CBC's Renee Filippone and Meera Bains and The Canadian Press


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