Manitoba

10 years later, Mark Grant will face challenges reintegrating into society, advocate says

After a Court of Queen's Bench judge found that Mark Edward Grant, 54, was not guilty, the Winnipeg man was released onto the streets of the city for the first time in 10 years on Wednesday.

John Hutton, with the John Howard Society, says ‘there will be some transition’

Mark Edward Grant is interviewed by police shortly after he was arrested in 2007. (Court of Queen's Bench)

After a Court of Queen's Bench judge found 54-year-old Mark Edward Grant not guilty on Wednesday, the Winnipeg man was released onto the streets of the city for the first time in 10 years.

The ruling means Grant has no conditions or restrictions upon release, and had likely not taken many steps to prepare for reintegration into society.

"Now it's time for him to try and return to the life that has been taken away from him. I think Mr. Grant is looking forward to just being able to look up and see blue sky," Grant's lawyer, Saul Simmonds, told CBC News after the ruling.

Grant was arrested in 2007 for the 1984 death of 13-year-old Candace Derksen. In 2011, a jury sentenced him to 25 years in prison.

That decision was overturned in 2013 by the Manitoba Court of Appeal, leading to the retrial which came to a close this week. The Winnipeg Police Service said it will review the judge's decision but it is not in a position to comment.  

"Whether an innocent person or a guilty person, he spent 10 years in custody and there will be some transition [back into society]," said John Hutton, executive director of the John Howard Society of Manitoba.

Usually, offenders serving life sentences are eligible for conditional release, meaning part of their sentence is served in the community under supervision with conditions, three years before their full parole eligibility. Full parole can't be considered for a second-degree murder conviction until 10 to 25 years have been served.

Through conditional release, inmates slowly get back into society through steps like day parole and temporary absences to help them prepare to be part of the community again.

But just because they are eligible doesn't mean it will be granted.

Mark Edward Grant was convicted in 2011 of second-degree murder in connection with the 1984 death of Candace Derksen, 13. But in 2013, the Manitoba Court of Appeal ordered a new trial, ruling the trial judge was wrong to exclude evidence that the defence argued suggests Derksen might have been killed by someone else. (Tom Andrich)

If his release were organized by the Correctional Service of Canada, he would have had a period of pre-release planning and a community supervision plan, a spokesperson said. 

But because of Grant's unique situation — an overturned conviction and not-guilty ruling in the retrial — he doesn't fall under Correctional Service Canada jurisdiction, nor is he dealing with the Parole Board of Canada. 

Hutton said that means he will have to reach out to services, like the John Howard Society, on his own for support — which he will probably need a lot of.

In general, when someone gets out after a long stint behind bars they need to do a lot of things that might seem mundane to most people, Hutton said, but can actually be quite difficult. That includes getting identification, a driver's licence, a job and a place to live.

"You have to do all those things suddenly all at once," Hutton said.

On top of that, there are technology and communication changes. The first iPhone came out the year Grant went behind bars.

History of incarceration, sexual assault

However, it's not the first time Grant has had to readapt. Parole and court documents describe Grant's past behind bars.

Before the 2007 arrest, Grant had served time for three separate assaults on females dating back to the 1980s. At age 14, he sexually assaulted a female of an undisclosed age and was sent to a youth detention centre. As a teen, Grant faced charges for breaking and entering, fraud, forgery, breach of parole, escaping from custody and being unlawfully at large.

In his mid-20s, Grant was accused of sexually assaulting, uttering threats and unlawfully confining a female in 1988. He was found guilty on three charges and, on appeal, he was handed an 18-month sentence.

The following year he was accused and later convicted of sexually assaulting 16-year-old Cynthia Bent and sentenced to four and half years in prison, later reduced to just four.

Less than two weeks after being released from Bowden Institution in Alberta in 1994, Grant was accused of a third sexual assault. He was convicted again and sentenced to 10 years minus time served.

During that time, Grant was denied parole repeatedly. He was also diagnosed with schizophrenia and could not be counted upon to consistently take his medications, parole records show.

But he served the full time for all his previous convictions and can now live in the community without restrictions.

Grant is on the National Sex Offender Registry. That means he has to report annually to police and anytime there's a change in address, name, employment or volunteer work, and all the data is shared with police across the country.

There will be a lot of challenges as Grant tries to adapt to a different society than the one he left 10 years ago. But anyone who comes out of incarceration has hurdles to tackle, Hutton said.

"When you are in custody, whether you are guilty or innocent, when you are in custody you have very little decision-making ability," he said.

"A lot of the decisions you and I just take for granted you don't get to make for yourself."

With files from Caroline Barghout and Laura Glowacki

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