New Brunswick

Convicted sex offender Donnie Snook allowed escorted absence from prison

Donnie Snook is allowed to travel under escort to St. John's, N.L., following the death of his father. He's serving an 18-year prison sentence for child sex abuse in Saint John and Mount Moriah, N.L.

Snook allowed to travel under escort to St. John's, N.L., following the death of his father

Donnie Snook is pictured in a Corner Brook, N.L., courtroom on Aug. 20, 2013. He is serving an additional three months for child exploitation crimes related to his time as a Salvation Army pastor in Mount Moriah, N.L. in the mid-1990s. (CBC)

Former Saint John city councillor Donnie Snook has been granted an escorted temporary absence from prison following the death of his father.

Police say Snook, who is serving an 18-year prison sentence for abusing boys in two provinces, will be in St. John's, N.L., until Saturday.

Correctional Service Canada notified the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary of Snook's arrival in St. John's earlier this week, according to Const. James Cadigan.

"He's only permitted to attend particular locations in the accompaniment of correctional officers and he'll be returned," Cadigan said.

Snook's father died Feb. 24. The funeral will be held in St. John's on Friday, according to an obituary.

Snook will be held at Her Majesty's Penitentiary, a provincial jail, overnight during his time in St. John's, Cadigan said.

In 2013, Snook admitted to 46 sex crimes against children, including sexual assault, making and distributing child pornography, and extortion.

'He hurt a whole community'

Snook's crimes sparked outrage and shock in Saint John, where he was a popular youth pastor in the south end.

For years, Snook ran a hot lunch program for underprivileged children, "deliberately" placing himself "in the positions to abuse young boys and seriously harm the community which supported him," Judge Alfred Brien wrote in Snook's sentencing decision.

Snook was paraded through Saint John City Hall by RCMP following his 2013 arrest. His arrest shocked the community. (CBC)

"He became emboldened in pursuing his desires, reckless and uncaring towards the very children who trusted him to help, not harm, them."

Snook admitted to abusing 17 young male victims over a 12-year period in Saint John.

He is also serving an additional three months after he pleaded guilty to three child exploitation charges involving a boy under the age of 14 in Newfoundland and Labrador.

They date back to Snook's work as a pastor at a Salvation Army church in Mount Moriah, N.L., in the mid-1990s.

Grace Murphy volunteered with Snook, serving hot lunches every day.

Both Murphy and her late mother were fond of Snook and the work he was doing with children. Murphy even asked Snook to conduct the service when her mother died.

When she learned the truth, she was shocked.

"I was angry," Murphy said. "I just felt so bad for the kids."

Grace Murphy volunteered with Donnie Snook, serving hot lunches to children. She doesn't agree with the decision to allow him an escorted temporary absence from prison. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

Murphy said she is sorry to hear Snook's father died, but she disagrees with the decision to allow him to leave prison, even if he'll be escorted by correctional officers.

"That was a horrendous, horrendous crime that he committed against those children," she said.

"Those children are suffering a life sentence."

Six years after her picture of Snook was shattered, Murphy still finds it difficult to trust people who are working with children or to believe they won't do the same harm.

"He hurt a whole community, not just 18 children."

Snook was eligible for parole in June

Correctional Service Canada would not confirm Snook's temporary absence from prison, citing privacy concerns.

"The Privacy Act prevents me from discussing the specifics of an offender's case," Correctional Service Canada spokesperson Lucinda Fraser wrote in an emailed statement.

The institutional head of a prison has the power to grant an escorted temporary absence up to five days in duration, according to Correctional Service Canada.

Unescorted temporary absences require a Parole Board of Canada hearing.

"If this offender applied for an unescorted temporary absence the Parole Board would schedule a hearing and any registered victims would be notified of the application, provided an opportunity to submit a statement and be able to attend the hearing," spokesperson Heather Byron wrote in an emailed statement.

Snook would have been eligible for full parole this June, but he waived his right to "a legislated full parole review," Byron wrote.

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

About the Author

Karissa Donkin is a journalist in CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Do you have a story you want us to investigate? Send your tips to NBInvestigates@CBC.ca.