New Brunswick

Child sex offender Donnie Snook granted prison leave for 'personal development'

Convicted sex offender Donnie Snook has been granted escorted temporary absences from prison for "personal development" purposes and is expected to be in the Abbotsford, B.C., area on Saturday, CBC News has learned.

Ex-Saint John city councillor serving prison sentence in B.C.

Correctional Service Canada recently spent more than $15,000 on an escorted temporary absence for Donnie Snook, pictured here in a Corner Brook, N.L., courtroom in 2013. (CBC)

Convicted sex offender Donnie Snook is expected to be out of prison and walking around the Abbotsford, B.C., area Saturday, with several more outings planned over the next two years, CBC News has learned.

He has been granted escorted temporary absence privileges for "personal development" purposes, according to a letter Correctional Service Canada sent to the parent of one of the 17 boys Snook sexually abused in Saint John.

The nature of the "personal development" has not been disclosed, but during the outings, Snook will be escorted by either a Correctional Service Canada staff member or a "trained non-security escort," the letter indicates.

Officials have previously said escorts may be volunteers.

Snook is serving an 18-year sentence after pleading guilty in 2013 to 46 child exploitation-related offences, including sexual assault, sexually touching a minor while in a position of trust, making child pornography and extortion.

Saturday is believed to be the third time this month that the former Saint John city councillor and youth pastor, who ran a hot-lunch program for disadvantaged children, has been allowed out on an escorted temporary absence, or ETA.

He was previously scheduled to be out on June 15 and June 22, the letter dated May 28 reveals.

Earlier this year, Correctional Service Canada spent more than $15,000 to send Snook to his father's funeral in St. John's, N.L., records obtained under federal access to information showed.

Under the ETA program, Snook will be allowed to leave prison once per week for up to 4½ hours each time until May 15, 2021, according to the letter to the parent. He will be allowed out from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

There is a publication ban on any information that would reveal the identities of Snook's victims.

'Blind rage'

"We will be notifying you every time this inmate leaves the institution on these ETAs in a monthly newsletter," the letter states.

"If for some reason the absence requires to be extended you will be notified."

The parent addressed in the Correctional Service Canada letter previously expressed "blind rage" over Snook's request for an escorted temporary absence. 

The warden of the prison where Snook is serving his sentence authorized his application. As of 2014, Snook was serving his sentence at a prison in Mission, B.C. 

While Snook is outside the prison, he must abide by the following conditions:

  • Remain within sight or sound of the escorting personnel.
  • Follow all direction provided by the escorting personnel.
  • Remain respectful of escort and all those encountered during the ETA.
  • Not possess, purchase or consume drugs, alcohol or tobacco.

Correctional Service Canada officials have declined to comment or even confirm Snook's ETA, citing privacy.

"Generally speaking, escorted temporary absence is a release in which an offender, either alone or as a member of a group, leaves the institution accompanied by one or several CSC designated escorts," spokesperson Jean-Paul Lorieau previously told CBC News.

The Criminal Trial Lawyers' Association supports access to rehabilitative services for inmates in general, director Amanda Hart-Dowhun has said.

"The vast majority of people who commit crimes, even horrendous crimes, they're released into the community. And when they're released … we want people who are set up to succeed."

Inmates are eligible for an escorted temporary absence at any time during their sentence.

Waived right to full parole review

Unescorted temporary absences require a Parole Board of Canada hearing.

Snook would have been eligible to seek full parole in June, but he waived his right to a parole review, spokesperson Heather Byron has said.

His next legislated review for full parole is scheduled for April 2024.

If Snook is not paroled by March 15, 2025, he will receive a statutory release, having served two-thirds of his sentence. 

Victims as young as 5

Saint John police found hundreds of child pornography images in Snook's home in 2013.

A psychological assessment found Snook, then 41, met diagnostic criteria for pedophilia and that his preferred age range of victims is between eight and 12 years of age.

Snook was sentenced in October 2013 after being convicted of three counts of sexual assault, 13 counts of sexual interference, 10 counts of inviting a youth to touch him, four counts of child luring, two counts of sexual exploitation and one count of extortion — inducing a child by threats to distribute or post a naked picture of himself.

He was also convicted of nine counts of making child pornography, two counts of possession of child pornography and two counts of making child pornography available.

The charges spanned 12 years and involved boys as young as five.

'Inexcusable crime'

Snook was sentenced to an additional three months after he pleaded guilty in November 2013 to child exploitation charges involving a boy under the age of 14 in his native Newfoundland and Labrador, dating back to the mid-1990s.

He unsuccessfully appealed his sentence in 2015.

"While publicly portraying himself to society at large as a doer of good, privately he was preying upon his community's most vulnerable," Court of Appeal Justice Marc Richard wrote in his decision. 

"The Supreme Court has called this type of behaviour 'an evil,'" he wrote, citing the 2012 case R v. D.A.I. "Child sexual predators are an evil that undermine one of our most basic societal values: that children should be free from sexual abuse. It is an inexcusable crime."

With files from Rachel Cave