Montreal

Parole board members' inexperience may have contributed to Quebec City woman's homicide, say former members

"I never would have put a man who has a violent past, who killed his ex-spouse, among young women who are vulnerable," said former Parole Board of Canada member Dave Blackburn, who said changes made by the Trudeau government in 2017 led to a shortage of experienced board members.

Efforts to alert PMO, Privy Council to risks of government's new nomination process ignored, they complain

Marylène Levesque, 22, who had been working at an erotic massage parlour, was found dead in a hotel room in the Quebec City suburb of Sainte-Foy on Jan. 22. Eustachio Gallese turned himself into police in connection with her death. (Marylène Levesque/Facebook)

Two former Parole Board of Canada members said Tuesday they tried to warn the Trudeau government in 2017 that changes to the way board members were nominated could lead to inexperienced members making "dangerous" decisions.

They fear that very inexperience may have contributed to the death of Marylène Levesque, 22, in a hotel room in the Quebec City suburb of Sainte-Foy last week.

Eustachio Gallese, 51, who is accused of second-degree murder in Levesque's death, was granted day parole last March after serving 15 years in prison for the second-degree murder of his former spouse.

In September, Gallese's application for full parole was denied.

The parole board extended his day parole, but despite Gallese's history of violence towards women — and despite the board's own concerns about a "serious and worrisome risk" — the board did not prevent Gallese from continuing to meet women for the sole purpose of having his "sexual needs" met.

"I never would have put a man who has a violent past, who killed his ex-spouse, among young women who are vulnerable," said Dave Blackburn, a parole board member from 2015 to 2018 and head of the social work department at  l'Université du Québec en Outaouais, who also ran as a candidate for the federal Conservatives last fall.

"It's like putting the wolf in the hen house."

Eustachio Gallese, 51, has been charged with second-degree murder forthe death of 22-year-old Marylène Levesque. Under his day parole conditions, he had been permitted to meet women to have his 'sexual needs' met. (Radio-Canada)

Board members should have said, 'Stop right there'

Jean-Claude Boyer, a parole board member from 2012 to 2018, agreed, questioning how Gallese's Correctional Services' case worker or his parole officer could ever have characterized the offender's encounters with sex workers as a "risk management strategy."

"It couldn't be 'risk management' when you authorize a criminal who has a problem with women to go meet with the most vulnerable women in society, who are prostitutes," Boyer told host Carol Off on CBC Radio's As It Happens. "It increases the risk." 

Boyer said as soon as parole board members learned about those authorized encounters last September, they should have rescinded Gallese's day parole.

"If I was on the board, I would immediately suspend his freedom," he said. "You cannot let a person commit a criminal infraction, even if the correctional services [team] did say, 'Oh, we planned this.' No. It's not acceptable,"  

"The law is clear: if a person solicits sexual services for a person for money, then he is committing a criminal infraction. You cannot authorize that as a board member and as a correctional services officer."

"The board members should be the ones saying, 'Hey, stop right there. It's not normal what is going on here.' And they didn't do it."

The man accused of killing Quebec City's Marylène Levesque had been on day parole for killing his former spouse in 2004. Parole board documents indicate he was allowed to meet with sex workers." Former parole board member Jean Claude Boyer says he's never seen a case like this one. 5:26

Few experienced board members left

Former parole board member Jean-Claude Boyer was one of a group of ex-members who warned the clerk of the Privy Council and the prime minister in 2017 that losing experienced members could lead to 'dangerous' decisions. (Radio-Canada)

Boyer and Blackburn both said that changes to the nomination process to the Parole Board of Canada introduced by the Trudeau government in 2017 led to a shortage of experienced members.

The changes limited members' terms and required them to reapply if they wanted to continue once their term expired.

Boyer said some commissioners simply chose not to reapply, while others who did reapply were rejected, with no explanation.

The changes meant that in 2017 most experienced commissioners did not have their mandates renewed.

In Quebec, only two of 16 Parole Board of Canada members were reappointed, meaning 14 were brand new.

The two members who heard Gallese's parole application in September had only been on the job since July 2018.

"We were really starting from scratch with people who knew nothing about the job," said Boyer, who stayed on for six months to help train new members, even though his own mandate was not renewed.

He said in his six years on the board, it was common practice to pair up new members with more experienced ones for several months. However, after the Trudeau government's overhaul of the board in 2017, there were so few experienced members, that became impossible.

"Unfortunately, there was such a shortage of commissioners at the time that two months after their appointment, two new commissioners would be paired together," Boyer told Radio-Canada.

Blackburn said that should never happen.

"It's not easy to evaluate a criminal record," Blackburn said. "On-the-job training in real hearings, being coached by an experienced member — that's fundamental in this job."

David Blackburn, a former parole board member, said Tuesday the decision to knowingly allow an offender to meet women for sex was like 'letting a wolf into the hen house.' (Radio-Canada)

Trudeau government ignored warning

Both Blackburn and Boyer said they were so concerned about the turnover on the parole board that they and a dozen other ex-members wrote a letter to the clerk of the Privy Council and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in November 2017 to warn them.

"We told them to be careful because losing experienced members— that's dangerous," Boyer said.

Boyer said no one received a response.

Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told reporters in Ottawa Tuesday that parole board members are doing an "outstanding" job.

"There's always a turnover of personnel in that important function, but we maintain very high standards for the people that are appointed. They are trained in their work," Blair said. 

On Monday, Blair asked the federal Correctional Service agency and the Parole Board of Canada to conduct a joint investigation into all of the circumstances that led to Levesque's death.

About the Author

Steve Rukavina is a journalist with CBC Montreal.

With files from Radio-Canada

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