Canada

Hard-time Crusade

Victims’ groups want the punishment to fit the crime, but critics say they may be motivated by revenge

John Nicol March 12 2001
Canada

Hard-time Crusade

Victims’ groups want the punishment to fit the crime, but critics say they may be motivated by revenge

John Nicol March 12 2001

Hard-time Crusade

Canada

By John Nicol

Last month, Elaine Jensen of Calgary, Eve Peck of Texas and Glen and Brenda Copithorn of Newcastle, Ont., set out on a crusade. The four, who had all lost loved ones in Canada to heinous crimes within the past three years, discovered that the murderers had quickly been moved to softer medium-security prisons. The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime organized tours of the prisons for the foursome, and ultimately a meeting with Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay. Before television cameras, they made pleas that the severity of the crimes should result in harsher imprisonment. They resolutely posed for photos, hardly betraying the anger and pain that fuelled their mission. When someone complimented them for being courageous and poised in the public eye, Brenda Copithorn was quick to

point out that it was all a facade. Her daughter, Jennifer, was stabbed 19 times by ex-boyfriend Robert Appleton in August, 1998. Said Copithorn: “You don’t know what’s it’s like when we’re home, behind doors.”

Their mission was a success. Upon meeting MacAulay and Correctional Services Commissioner Lucie McClung, they were told that rules would be changed immediately—from now on, people convicted of firstor second-degree murder would have to spend the first two years of their sentence in maximumsecurity prisons. McClung declined to be interviewed by Macleans, but a correctional services spokeswoman insisted the new stipulation was a result of a review McClung had ordered last September, not a knee-jerk response to the quartet’s mission. The timing, however, was perhaps a bit too coinciden-

Victims’ groups want the punishment to fit the crime, but critics say they may be motivated by revenge

tal: when Jensen, Peck and the Copithorns returned to their homes, two of the killers had been transferred to maximumsecurity Kingston Penitentiary—where sex killer Paul Bernardo whiles away the days in a nine-by-six-foot cell—while the third had already been transferred to a tougher prison during the publicity surrounding the quartet’s impending prison visits.

Victory, though, was bittersweet. Paul Gendreau, a professor at the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies at the University of New Brunswick at Saint John, told Maclean’s the government made a hasty response to victims who were “purely out for revenge.” And Simon Fraser University professor emeritus Ezzat Fattah, who has studied victims’ issues for 40 years, said the question highlights an ongoing problem with Canadas correctional system. “Unless we define its goals—is it vengeance, deterrence or incapacitation—the rules will be subject to emotional and political interference,” he said.

Steve Sullivan, who organized the tour for the Canadian Police Association-sponsored Victims of Crime resource centre, said the announcement was another step in an almost 20-year crusade to seek balance between the rights of the offender and those of the victims and their families. In Canada, the families of the children who fell victim to mass murderer Clifford Olson kick-started the movement in British Columbia in the early 1980s. The drawn-out inquiry into the 1988 murder of 11-year-old Christopher Stephenson, at the hands of pedophile Joseph Fredericks in Brampton, Ont., furthered the cause, as did the work of Priscilla de Villiers, who lost her daughter, Nina, to killer Jonathan Yeo in 1991 and founded CAVEAT—Canadians Against Violence. And then came the publicity of the Bernardo case—especially the controversial plea-bargain negotiated by Karla Homolka, Bernardos former wife and partner in crime in the deaths of two St. Catharines, Ont., teenagers. “One of the things victims often complain about is that nobody listens to them,” said Sullivan of MacAulays decision. “This time they did.”

Jensen and Peck went to Bath Institution, a former minimum-security prison overlooking Lake Ontario near Kingston, which is now surrounded by two razor-wire-topped fences and classified as medium security. Inmate Ian Gordon, Jensens ex-husband, killed his and Jensen’s two daughters— Kayla, 14, and Liane, 9—and his common-law wife, Lin Kreis, 41, with an axe in February, 1998. A year later, Anton Lorenz, who also served time at Bath, beat Peck’s sister—Sandra Quigley, 32, ofToronto—senseless with a telephone and then smothered her to death. Jensen says the visit was like reliving her daughters’ funerals; for Peck, it was like returning to the horrors of court. And the pair did not expect the killers to have access to billiard tables and barbecues.

The Copithorns, meanwhile, went to Fenbrook Institution north of Gravenhurst, an open-concept, medium-security jail amid the white pines of Ontario’s cottage country that features gymnasiums, crafts and woodworking shops. Glen Copithorn emerged from the tour disgusted by the freedom

and facilities, and shaken by the fact that Appleton was free to make whatever he wanted for supper—with knives much like the one he used to stab their daughter. Appleton was moved to a starker medium-security prison at Warkworth, near Kingston, but the Copithorns are continuing to press for his transfer to a maximum-security institution.

But has the victims’ rights movement gone too far? Critics suggest that the justice system has been listening all too much to victims. Since 1989, victim impact statements have been taken under consideration in sentencing. As well, because of lobbying by victims’ rights groups, the so-called faint-hope clause was modified to remove, for multiple murderers, the automatic right to be considered for parole after 15 years. Simon Fraser’s Fattah says the overall trend is “very dangerous. ” Already, victim impact statements have exacerbated sentencing disparity: criminals might receive vasdy different sentences for crimes of similar severity, all because some victims came forward and others did not. “The whole victim movement,” Fattah believes, “has been hijacked by politicians and people who are trying to use victims as pawns in their attempt to take us back to a time when draconian punishment prevailed.”

René Durocher remembers those days. The ex-convict, who became infamous for his $2-million heist in 1985 of a Brinks truck in Toronto, turned to crime early. In 1961, at the age of 17, he was placed in the dreaded, and now closed, St-Vincent-de-Paul maximum-security prison north of Montreal. “It was the worst penitentiary at the time, and all it did was build me to be bitter, full of anger,” Durocher recalls. He claims that led to a life of thefts and arrests—and a total of 23 years and five months behind bars. Since his release in 1991, he has been based at Stony Mountain prison north of Winnipeg working for LifeLine, a national program for offenders serving life. Although he feels compassion for the crusaders, he says victims should concentrate on healing themselves. “If tonight we are locking up lifers in maximum, rather than medium, I don’t think the victim will feel any better,” says the 57-year-old, who has spoken across North America and Europe about progressive ways of handling offenders. “They still have to go on with the pain and the healing.”

But that healing can never be complete. Elaine Jensen knew her crusade would drag up the nightmare of losing Kayla and Liane; by the time she returned home to Calgary, the grief was again full blown. “I’ve got memories,” she says, “but what I crave all the time is the smell or the touch. I feel like I haven’t got anything left. It was both children, so I lost my identity as a mom—I didn’t realize how important a part of me it was.” She is glad her trip meant that her ex-husband is now serving harsher time in Kingston Penitentiary. “It’s definitely not revenge,” she says. “It’s simple justice.” E3

Should criminals who receive life sentences serve at least the first two years in maximum security?