Michel Surprenant and Pierre Boisvenu call for justice reforms

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By James Mennie , Montreal Gazette November 15, 2009 6:02 PM

MONTREAL — They both had daughters named Julie.

Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu lost his 27-year-old daughter seven years ago. She was abducted, raped and murdered in Sherbrooke, Que., by a sexual predator, her body found in a field six days after she was officially listed as missing.

Hugo Bernier, the man convicted of murdering Julie Boisvenu, had been sentenced in 1999 to 18 months for kidnapping and sexually assaulting a young woman in Quebec’s Gaspe. Even though the judge in the earlier case said Bernier was at high risk of re-offending, he was released after three months.

Michel Surprenant lost his 16-year-old daughter 10 years ago. She was last seen getting off a bus at a stop near her home near the Montreal suburb of Terrebonne. Then she vanished.

There had been a suspicion that a sexual predator who lived nearby Surprenant’s home might have been involved in her disappearance. But he was never charged and has since died in prison.

So Julie Surprenant remains missing.

Despite the what-ifs that will always be part of their lives, neither Surprenant nor Boisvenu will spend Monday wondering about what might have happened.

That’s because they’ll be too busy trying to convince the government that what did happen to them shouldn’t happen to anyone else.

Monday morning, Surprenant, along with the families of others who have disappeared without a trace, will meet reporters at the Montreal courthouse and call upon the federal and provincial government to toughen up the protocols surrounding the release of sexual offenders into society. They’ll also call for the creation of a specialized squad of police tasked exclusively to examine missing-persons cases and whether foul play is involved.

“We can have special squads for white-collar crimes after (the arrests of) Vincent Lacroix and Earl Jones,” Surprenant said Sunday, referring to the two disgraced investors. “If they had the will do it for those cases, there’s no reason for them not to do the same for missing persons.”

Boisvenu, meanwhile, will spend Monday in Quebec City, seeking support from the provincial justice ministry for the Association des Familles de Personnes Assassinees ou Disparues, the support group he and Surprenant founded.

Boisvenu knows that his group’s call for the public to be informed of when sexual offenders are released from prison and where they’ve been released will raise the ire of human-rights advocates.

He doesn’t care.

“The Charter of Rights and Freedoms does a better job protecting the private lives of criminals than it does the lives of our families and our children,” he said, “At the very least, people ought to know if a sexual predator has been released into their neighbourhood.

“The Sexual Offenders Registry is used only by police, it has no preventative value. It’s a choice we have to make as a society. Who do we want to protect?”

Surprenant, meanwhile, said he hopes that whatever pressure he can force on the government to change how it deals with sexual predators and the families of those they victimize is the best way to maintain the memory of his daughter.

“By informing people — parents in particular — of the dangers they’re facing daily, we’re saving lives. The memory of Julie Surprenant is saving lives.”

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