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Federal review of child killer's transfer 'a good start' says Tori Stafford's father

The father of an eight-year-old Woodstock girl who was brutally murdered by Terri-Lynne McClintic calls a review of the decision to allow the child killer's transfer to an Indigenous healing lodge 'a start.'

Rodney Stafford says he plans to go to Ottawa to push for changes to the corrections system

Rodney Stafford, seen here in his Woodstock, Ont. home, said he's angry schoolgirl killer Terri-Lynne McClintic has been allowed to go to a facility in Saskatchewan that provides spiritual healing to female prisoners. (Colin Butler/CBC)

Tori Stafford's father says a review ordered by the federal Liberal government into how child killer Terri-Lynne McClintic was transferred from an Ontario prison to a Corrections Canada-run Indigenous healing lodge in Saskatchewan is "a good start."

"I'm very happy," he told CBC News Thursday. "We need to get Terri-Lynne back to where she belongs." 

McClintic pleaded guilty in 2010 to the 2009 killing of eight-year-old Tori Stafford.

McClintic and her former boyfriend Michael Rafferty were convicted of the killing in separate trials after the pair abducted the girl from near her Woodstock, Ont. school, driving her first to Guelph, then to a farmer's field south of Mount Forest where Tori was sexually assaulted and beaten to death before the pair hid her body in a clandestine grave. 

CBC News has confirmed through a government official that Terri-Lynne McClintic is Indigenous, but Rodney Stafford said her cultural background has no effect in the way he feels. 

Terri-Lynne McClintic is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to the first-degree murder of Tori Stafford in April 2010. (Canadian Press)

"None whatsoever," he said. "She's human. She's no different than anybody else, it doesn't matter what your ethnicity is, she's a child killer."

"She's living it up in this healing lodge when there's people within the prison system that are doing more time and harder time for lesser crimes." 

Review ordered

Rodney Stafford first spoke to CBC News on Tuesday, expressing his anger after he learned McClintic had been transferred to a healing lodge in southern Saskatchewan.

On Wednesday, the controversy exploded in the House of Commons, with the opposition Conservative leader Andrew Scheer accusing Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of "not doing his job" when he didn't immediately order a reversal of the transfer.

Trudeau, in turn, accused Scheer's Conservatives of playing political games with the tragedy because McClintic's transfer happened in 2014 under the then-Conservative federal government led by Stephen Harper. 

A heated exchange erupted in the HOC Wednesday over how a convicted child killer ended up in a healing lodge. 1:01

On Wednesday, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale ordered Corrections Canada officials to review McClintic's 2014 transfer from maximum to medium security.

Victoria (Tori) Stafford disappeared after leaving her elementary school in Woodstock, Ont., on April 8, 2009. Her partially clothed remains were found more than three months later. (Canadian Press)

Canada's eight healing lodges were built with the aim to reduce the startling rate of Indigenous incarceration in the country. While Statistics Canada counts Indigenous people as only 2.5 per cent of the general Canadian population, they make up 17.8 per cent of the country's prison population.

Okima Ohci Healing Lodge

Rachel Parker, the woman who runs Okima Ohci Healing Lodge for Aboriginal Women where McClintic is said to be housed, would not discuss individual cases due to privacy restrictions. 

"I do think that our programs are appropriate because we focus on reintegration, core programs and dealing with past abuses, physical, sexual, inter-generational trauma and addiction issues," she said.

This image shows a pavilion located at Okima Ochi Healing Lodge for Aboriginal Women in southern Saskatchewan, the first such Corrections Canada-run facility to be established in the country. (Government of Canada)

It's widely known that McClintic had a traumatic childhood. An unwanted child, she was given away as a baby to her mother, Carol McClintic, a nightclub stripper. The family moved every few years and McClintic attended schools in half a dozen southern Ontario communities where she was bullied because of her mother's occupation.

McClintic was also physically and sexually abused as a child and while it's not known when McClintic first became addicted to drugs, her experience with illegal drugs started when she was eight year old. 

Parker said the Okima Ochi Healing Lodge combines regular Corrections Canada rehabilitation programming combined with traditional First Nations spiritual healing practices. 

"Research has shown that when people are participating in cultural and spiritual activities that they have a more balanced approach to healing, and so they can move forward to deal with the things that brought them into the institution."

A 20-year-old Correctional Service of Canada study suggests healing lodges get better results than prisons when it comes to recidivism. The study looked at 412 Indigenous offenders who were admitted to three Corrections-run healing lodges and found about 70 per cent of prisoners completed the program.

Among them, only six per cent returned to federal custody after committing a new offence while on conditional release. Compare that to the mainstream prison system, which saw a recidivism rate of 11 per cent in 1998. 

'Victoria will never have that'

Still Stafford said it's important to his family that McClintic stay in a maximum security facility because, from his perspective, that's justice being served. 

"She received a 25-year sentence and in less than 10 years she's out living in a healing lodge in open concept, around families and she's able to have a life basically." 

"Victoria will never have that," said Stafford, referring to his deceased daughter.  

Stafford says he plans to travel to Ottawa in November where he'll ask the federal government to change the law so that people convicted of killing the vulnerable, such as children, the disabled or the elderly are not allowed to leave maximum security prisons as a condition of their sentence. 

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca