Conservative Vic Toews: ally or poison apple?

Justice critic blasts parole for murderer

‘This guy had not demonstrated in any way that he was fit to be released,’ Tory MP says

GLOBE AND MAIL

By ROD MICKLEBURGH

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

VANCOUVER — Federal Conservative justice critic Vic Toews called for changes to Canada’s parole system yesterday after a convicted murderer out on day parole was charged with the beating death of a 75-year-old man during a home invasion.

“The record clearly shows that this guy had not demonstrated in any way that he was fit to be released,” Mr. Toews said.

He was referring to the case of Eric Norman Fish, 42, charged yesterday with first-degree murder in the slaying of Bill Abramenko of Vernon, B.C.

Mr. Fish had a long record of prison misbehaviour and parole violations when he was allowed to stay at a halfway house in Vernon last April, including a prior conviction for second-degree murder during a 1984 home invasion.

“This to me demonstrates simply a desire to get the person back out on the street,” Mr. Toews said, “without a real consideration of whether parole has been earned.”

He said that the criteria for parole need to be changed to put the onus on individuals actually earning their parole.

“It shouldn’t simply be a matter of serving time. It should be a matter of a demonstrable effort toward being rehabilitated,” Mr. Toews said. “We’ve got to reformulate the [parole] test to clarify this.”

The parole board decision approving limited day parole for Mr. Fish, despite two recent parole violations for using cocaine, noted that the inmate had completed “numerous programs” in jail and gained “some insight into the dynamics of [his] offending.”

The board gave Mr. Fish credit for immediately re-involving himself in relapse-prevention programs after his most recent cocaine lapse.

Mr. Toews questioned the importance of such factors. “What weight has been put on these things to come to the conclusion that there’s no undue risk to the community?

“He’s taken certain steps but I don’t think anyone would have said that he’s earned it [day parole] with his kind of record.”

At the time of the break-in and beating death of Mr. Abramenko, Mr. Fish had been missing from his halfway facility, known as Howard House, for six weeks.

Joanne Crawford, executive director of the John Howard Society, which runs Howard House, said the facility houses an average of about 18 federal parolees on any given day.

Police in Vernon have been criticized for not alerting the public to Mr. Fish’s escape.

The picturesque Okanagan community is also in an uproar over the fact that Mr. Fish had been sent there on day parole.

Mr. Toews said there needs to be a full investigation into all aspects of the case. “Not only the parole board conduct, the police conduct, but also the criteria on which people are granted parole.”

He added that the Criminal Code should establish minimum mandatory sentences for home invasions.

“The whole idea of breaking into people’s houses is not simply a property offence. Residential break-ins can lead to exactly the kind of situation that happened in Vernon.”

Regional parole board director Evelyn Blair said that it is almost certain a joint investigation by the board and Corrections Canada will be held.

“Whenever any serious harm comes to anyone in the community, we review all the circumstances.”

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