Man serving life sentence for murder starts farm to help inmates and victims

Glen Flett killed a man in 1978. Today, Flett is working to heal those affected by violent crime and those who perpetrate it, bringing them together, to work side-by-side on a farm. Flett says this farm work helps him to reconcile with his past and honour the memory of his victim.
In 1978 Glen Flett shot and killed Ted Van Sluytman, a Hudson’s Bay store manager. He thinks about his crime everyday. (Nick Purdon/CBC)

"I was a hedonist, I'd say. Somebody who didn't have much regard for anybody else's feelings."

That's the attitude Glen Flett says he carried with him for much of his early life.

Flett says his first contact with police happened when he was just seven years old and that it continued throughout his youth.

Then, during an attempted armed robbery in the Toronto area in 1978, Flett shot and killed Ted Van Sluytman, a Hudson's Bay store manager.

Flett was given a life sentence for second degree murder.

In prison, Flett's attitude continued to harden.

"Life meant very little to me, anybody's life, including my own. And I got into a lot of trouble. I was constantly getting into small confrontations with the staff and with other prisoners sometimes too."

But, today, nearly four decades later, Flett is, in many ways, a transformed human being.

He's out of prison.

He's friends with Margot Van Sluytman, the daughter of the man he murdered.

“I carry a weight. And that weight, I can’t let go. I don’t want to let go of it either. I want to remember Mr. Van Sluytman for the rest of my life."- Glen Flett (Nick Purdon/CBC)

And he's an outspoken advocate of restorative justice, sometimes speaking in prisons on the subject alongside Margot Van Sluytman.

But Flett says, during his early years in prison, he had none of that desire for reconciliation.

"I was pretty much numb to any thought that I was trying to reconcile with what I'd done," he says of his early years in Millhaven Maximum Security Institution in Bath, Ontario.

But several years later, when he was transferred to Kent Institution, a maximum security prison in Agassiz, British Columbia, things slowly began to change.

In Kent, Flett was put into an experimental program where guards wore civilian clothes, called him by his name and treated him "like a person."

"But I didn't like that very much. I was quite content to be in Milhaven where the guards were the guards and I was the prisoner and we hated each other and that was good."

But, he says, within the Kent program, his attitude began to soften.

Not long afterwards, he became a Christian.

"That ultimately led me to restorative justice because I believe that's one of the things that Christianity's about, is restorative justice."

In 1992, Flett was first let out on parole.

Through his commitment to restorative justice, he founded LINC, an organization that works to support victims and perpetrators of crime.

He spoke at schools and universities.

But even then, Flett says, there was a missing piece in his effort to redeem himself.

"Often the question of, 'well, why haven't you been in touch with your victim?' came up and in some ways I believe it somewhat hindered me in my message."

Eventually, Flett made email contact with Margot Van Sluytman, the daughter of the man he killed.

Those emails eventually led to their first face-to-face meeting.

"When Margot came into my life, it was perfect timing and it was the time for me to engage with her and be inspired by that engagement to try even harder to find ways to help her and other victims."

Emma's Acres is a place where inmates and victims can work side by side in the dirt growing vegetables and finding reconciliation. (Nick Purdon/CBC)

Today, among his other restorative justice efforts, Flett runs Emma's Acres, a farm in Mission, British Columbia, where victims and perpetrators of crime work side by side, growing vegetables.

Flett says the labour and teamwork needed to make things grow is an ideal process for both sides to find mutual support and healing.

Flett hopes profits from the vegetables will one day be sufficient to hire an outreach worker to help victims of crime who aren't getting sufficient support elsewhere.

Ultimately, Flett says, all his efforts to promote restorative justice stem from his own quest for reconciliation.

"I carry a weight. And that weight, I can't let go. I don't want to let go of it either. I want to remember Mr. Van Sluytman for the rest of my life. And I want to be inspired by the fact that I did what I did but I can turn that around. I can give instead of take and I can do that in his memory."