Politics

Top prison, parole board officials vow steps to prevent repeat of woman murdered by parolee

The heads of Canada's prison service and the parole board have expressed condolences for the death of a young Quebec woman murdered by a convicted killer out on day parole, and vowed to take whatever steps necessary to prevent another incident like this from happening again.

22-year-old Marylène Levesque was killed by convicted murderer out on day parole

Marylène Levesque, 22, was found dead at a hotel in Sainte-Foy, Que. on Jan. 22. MPs on the public safety committee are holding hearings to find out why her killer was released on parole. (Marylène Levesque/Facebook)

The heads of Canada's prison service and the parole board today expressed condolences for the death of a young Quebec woman murdered by a convicted killer out on day parole, and vowed to take whatever steps necessary to prevent another incident like this from happening again.

Correctional Service of Canada Commissioner Anne Kelly and Parole Board of Canada Chair Jennifer Oades were on Parliament Hill for two hours today answering questions from MPs on the public safety committee.

Marylène Levesque, a 22-year-old sex worker, was found stabbed to death in a hotel room in the Quebec City suburb of Sainte-Foy Jan. 22.

Eustachio Gallese, who was out on day parole at the time and serving a life sentence for killing his ex-wife in 2004, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in Levesque's death last month.

Kelly said the parole officers involved in his case are not currently supervising offenders pending the outcome of the investigation.

The case touched off a political firestorm in the House of Commons over Canada's parole board system and its decision to allow a man with a record of deadly violence against women to be released on parole — and to be alone with women.

Levesque worked in an erotic massage parlour and had met Gallese at hotels on multiple occasions.

On Tuesday, Oades said public safety is paramount in all decisions by the parole board, and stressed that violent incidents occurring after the board releases an offender into the community are "very rare." Evidence-based risk assessment has improved vastly over the years to limit repeat offences, she said. 

"As much as we strive for excellence in our decision-making, unfortunately predicting human behaviour is not, and will likely never be, an exact science," Oades said. "In the very rare instances such as this case, where an offender re-offends violently, it is devastating to me, to our board members and to our staff."

During a Sept. 19, 2019 hearing to determine if day parole should be continued for Gallese, parole officers presented a release plan that included allowing him to solicit women for sexual purposes.

Oades said that part of the correctional plan was "categorically rejected," but the rest of the plan was approved and a decision was made to release Gallese.

"I want to be very clear about this: they ordered the offender and his parole officer to stop this activity. The offender clearly understood this," she said.

Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus said he was outraged that Gallese, with a violent history against women, was released on day parole and that his correctional plan included a strategy that allowed him to meet women to meet his "sexual needs."

Kelly said CSC does not condone offenders soliciting sexual services, and that she is "greatly concerned" by what occurred.

"The parole officers directly involved in this case are currently not supervising offenders," she said.

When "tragic events" like this happen, CSC needs to see what can be done better, she said.

Some of the committee members engaged in partisan finger-pointing, with Liberal MP Pam Danoff recalling spending cuts under Stephen Harper that she says impacted the integrity of criminal justice, and Paul-Hus suggesting that changes to the appointment process for parole board members brought in by the Liberals in 2017 weakened the system.

Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus pushed for parliamentary hearings into the death of a 22-year-old Quebec woman who was murdered by a convicted killer who was out on day parole. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Paul-Hus said the Liberals engaged in an ideologically based "purge" to remove Conservative-appointed members and have more diversity on the board. He said the resulting loss of expertise was "catastrophic."

"You've taken away the expertise of people who can make decisions about criminals, about killers like Gallese in order to inject diversity," he said.

Some former parole board members said changes to the nomination process introduced by the Trudeau government in 2017 led to a shortage of experienced members. Changes limited members' terms and required them to reapply if they wanted to continue once their term expired. Some chose not to reapply, while others who did reapply were rejected with no explanations.

Parole board nomination changes

Paul-Hus said eight former parole board members wrote to the Liberal government in 2017 warning that the changes could create risk. He said he was not authorized to release the letter.

"They said if you don't do anything, if you don't change things, something will happen. And it's happened," he said.

Oades said there is historically there is a "big change" in the makeup in the board whenever there is a change in government, but she said the board members are all qualified and properly trained to do the job.

During court proceedings last month, the Crown said Gallese had developed feelings for Levesque and grew jealous and angry when she became more distant. She agreed to meet him at a restaurant on Jan. 22, then went with him to a hotel.

Gallese admitted to planning the murder in advance, concealing a knife and stabbing Levesque in the abdomen 30 times.

The Crown said Gallese had planned to take his own life after killing Levesque, but instead turned himself in to police.

Eustachio Gallese, 51, has been charged in connection with the death of 22-year-old Marylène Levesque. He was released on day parole in March 2019 for the 2004 murder of his ex-spouse. (Radio-Canada)

In 2006, he was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 15 years for the 2004 second-degree murder of his ex-wife, Chantale Deschênes. According to parole documents, he struck her on the head with a hammer and stabbed her several times, enraged by her decision to leave him.

After serving 15 years, he was granted day parole last March. He had been living in a halfway house at the time of Levesque's death.

Blair ordered investigation

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced in late January that Correctional Service Canada and the Parole Board of Canada would conduct a joint investigation "into all of the circumstances that led to the tragic death of Marylène Levesque."

Last month, he also supported the committee's hearings.

"I share the concern about this tragedy, as I think all Canadians do. We want to make sure that we get the facts and get to the bottom of this. It is one of the reasons we have asked the two federal agencies involved to convene a board of investigation," he told the House of Commons on Feb. 4.

"That board of investigation will feature two external vice-chairs, and it has been convened to examine the circumstances that led to this tragic event. As well, we have made a commitment that its findings will be made public and transparent."

The joint investigation is still underway, according to a CSC spokeswoman.

John Muise, a former parole board member and former Toronto police officer, said the committee's hearings offer a chance both for a broader review of the system and to fix policy or legislative deficiencies.

"We could address some of the specific things that we could do to make things better in the system, to make things safer. I mean, that's what it's all about," he said. "That would be a great thing."

With files from Radio-Canada's Pierre-Alexandre Bolduc

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