Failed by the system: Offender released without proper notice, says woman on victim notification list

An N.W.T. mother is speaking out after getting no notice that the man who sexually assaulted her daughter as a young girl was being released from jail, despite a justice department program that promises to do just that.

'I couldn’t protect her then and I can’t protect her now,' says N.W.T. mother

An N.W.T. woman says the N.W.T. Department of Justice victim notification program did not adequately notify her and her daughter. (Walter Strong/CBC)

"I couldn't protect her then and I can't protect her now."

The mother of a young N.W.T. woman is speaking out after the man who pleaded guilty and went to prison for sexually assaulting her daughter multiple times over a three-year period was released without prior warning to either her or her daughter.

The woman's daughter was a minor when the assaults occurred. The identity of the victim, or the publication of information that could identify her, is under a court ordered publication ban.

On Aug. 11, 2016, Lawrence Ross, 33, was sentenced to two years and 10 months in prison for the sexual assaults. After credit for time served, he had 22 months left on his sentence. He was released from jail earlier this month after serving approximately 15 months.

It was Ross's second conviction for sexual assault. His sentence included giving a DNA sample and being added to the National Sex Offender Registry for life.

According to court documents, Ross is under a court order prohibiting him from direct or indirect contact with either his victim or his victim's parents. He was also prohibited for life from holding a position of authority or trust with anyone under the age of 16, through either work or volunteer activities.

But according to the mother, who cannot be identified, neither she nor her daughter knew any of this when Ross was released on Nov. 9.

3 to 4 weeks notice

The mother said she was registered with the Department of Justice's victim notification program as the contact for any information concerning Ross's release or movements. She also said she and her daughter only found out he had been released in the afternoon on the day he was set free.

She said she was later told that Ross had already been released by the time she and her daughter were informed with a phone call.

That's not supposed to happen, according to the Department of Justice.

"Victims that are registered with the victims notification program are notified three to four weeks prior to scheduled release of the offender and when and if the offender is transferred to another facility," reads a statement emailed to the CBC.

In the same email, the department stated: "They are informed that this date may change to a later time, however it will never be earlier than the advised day."

The department said it would not discuss any specifics of the case, but said it "will look into these concerns raised."

The mother said she has only ever received one piece of information from the department regarding Ross: a July 20, 2017, form letter that said he was being transferred between facilities. She also got a phone call about the move.

That notification included a tentative release date of Nov. 4, but she said she did not take that letter to be notice of his release. It was, to her, merely notice that he was being transferred.

In any case, she did try to find out if the tentative release date had become the actual release date.

"I did some phoning around about three weeks ago to find out when he was going to be released," she said. "Nobody could help me, nobody could tell me anything."

Not an isolated case?

The mother said she was disturbed to learn from her contact in Victim Services that this kind of thing is not an isolated matter.

"My case is not the only case where information has not been shared," she said. "She has several other clients who have gone through a similar thing."

According to the department, in the past five years there have been 29 victims registered in the victim notification program. CBC requested information on how often the department has failed to notify those on the victim notification list that a prisoner is being released, but was told that number was not available at publication time.

The mother hopes other families will be spared the recent frustration she and her daughter have experienced.

"No matter what I do, I just cannot protect her," she said.

"I tried to be proactive and get the information [about Ross's release], and I wasn't even successful at that."

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