British Columbia

Time to re-examine electronic monitoring of high-risk offenders in B.C., says Suzanne Anton

B.C.'s justice minister says it's time to considering changes to B.C.'s prison release procedures for high-risk individuals, including a wider deployment of technology to keep tabs on dangerous offenders.

'We owe it to the Vermeersch family to make sure our daughters are safe,' says attorney general

Mounting pressure on B.C.'s attorney general may change the use of electronic monitoring in the province 2:33

B.C.'s justice minister says it's time to considering changes to B.C.'s prison release procedures for high-risk individuals, including a wider deployment of technology to keep tabs on dangerous offenders.

"Should there be electronic monitoring? I do think that that is something that probably should be considered," said Minister of Justice and Attorney General Suzanne Anton Wednesday.

Questions over how high-risk individuals are tracked and monitored after they are released into the community have been raised after recently-released high-risk offender Raymond Lee Caissie was re-arrested and charged this week with murdering Surrey teenager Serena Vermeersch.

The 17-year-old Surrey teen was found found dead along her walking route between her bus stop and home on Sept. 16, after she failed to make it home from a friend's the night before.

B.C. Minister of Justice and Attorney General Suzanne Anton says the province may need to expand how and when it uses electronic monitoring for people released from prison back into the community. (CBC)

"The question really is: are the appropriate tools in place? And that's the question I'm raising, and I'm raising it with the federal minister," Anton said.

"As I said, we owe it to the Vermeersch family to make sure our daughters are safe when they're waiting at bus stops. This is a terrible, terrible tragedy."

Caissie, now 43, had many conditions imposed on him when he was released from prison 15 months ago — staying away from weapons, drugs and restraining devices — but electronic monitoring was not considered at the time.

E-monitoring used for low-risk cases

The Ministry of Justice said that, last year, on the typical day, there were roughly 75 people being monitored electronically as a condition of various court orders.

[Electronic monitoring] is not going to be able to tell you what an offender is doing at any one time.- Criminologist Dr. Nahanni Pollard

GPS-enabled ankle bracelets can be used to monitor convicted criminals that have served their time, but only if a court decides it is necessary.

In B.C., electronic monitoring is generally used to monitor an offender’s compliance with court-ordered curfew or house arrest conditions.

But electronic monitoring is typically used only for low-risk offenders, to ensure they stay under house arrest.

It may not have made a difference where and opportunity for prevention is needed, says Dr. Nahanni Pollard, a criminologist at Douglas College.

"In a situation like this, I think that would be probably less helpful, because it's not going to be able to tell you what an offender is doing at any one time," she said.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association isn't opposed to the idea of electronic monitoring of individuals who are considered to be at a high risk to re-offend, but executive director Josh Paterson says a one-size-fits-all solution for too many ex-cons goes too far.

B.C.'s Ministry of Justice says that in the year ending March 31, 2014 there were roughly 75 people per day being monitored electronically in B.C. under the conditions of various court orders. (CBC)

"To impose some solution in a blanket way on everyone in a way that would interfere with their freedom, once they are out of jail and have paid their debt, raises some significant constitutional questions," Paterson said.

Experts in B.C. prison and parole law tell CBC News that, Caissie would have been placed under more traditional surveillance initially upon his release, but that watch would have tapered off over time.

His ongoing monitoring would have been split among a number of agencies, including the Ministry of Justice and B.C.Corrections.

Now, with him accused of murdering a 17-year-old, Anton says there will be a review of what went wrong.

"Of course, everyone will be reviewing their own procedures. They will be looking to make sure — to see if there were other things that could have been done," she said.

Caissie remains is custody and is scheduled to appear in court on Oct. 2.

None of the charges against him in the Serena Vermeersch case have been proven in court.

With files from the CBC's Eric Rankin

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