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Warning issued, no action taken

Dorothy Westerman
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Mar 15/04) - The 15-year-old young offender on the streets of Yellowknife in the fall of 2002, after serving a sentence for three sexual assaults in 2000, had been released on unsupervised probation.

The 15-year-old young offender on the streets of Yellowknife in the fall of 2002, after serving a sentence for three sexual assaults in 2000, had been released on unsupervised probation.

Before his departure from a sexual offender therapy program in September 2002, a psychological assessment done by Alberta Mental Health in 2001 was quite definite about the teen's chances for reoffending:

"We also recommend that (the offender's) whereabouts and activities be closely supervised as a condition of probation or through other legal means and that he not be allowed to have unsupervised access to young children..."

That warning was not acted upon. Does this mean there is a gap in the system?

The mother and father of one of the young victims think so.

"This offender was allowed to resume his predatory habits -- despite warnings he could re-offend," the father said. "That warning was ignored."

The girl's mother said the justice system fell short.

Pieces operating separately

"All the individual pieces of the justice system -- corrections, the parole board -- seem to be operating separately from each other.

"If they could work together better, then when a report comes out saying a youth or adult is at a high risk to re-offend, they wouldn't fail the system at the next step."

Bethan Williams, coordinator for community corrections in Yellowknife, said probation conditions are usually set in the courtroom.

"When they (offenders) are assessed for risk and needs, we would work collaboratively with the offender to address those needs and risks," Williams said.

In this case, conditions imposed upon the young sex offender didn't prevent him re-offending, not once but twice -- nine days apart.

While unable to discuss the circumstances of this specific case, Williams said there are still limits to what probation services can do.

"They cannot make that originating order any more onerous(tough) than the original order," Williams said.

So what can be done to protect the public should probation conditions become inadequate?

Community Corrections has no authority to make the community aware of such a potential re-offender, according to Williams.

There is also a limit to what police can do. "But that does not mean we are totally detached from such a situation," Yellowknife RCMP Inspector Paul Richards said.

"Here in Yellowknife, we're generally aware of who is in jail and who's not," he said.

While this offender won't be back on the streets for several years, chances are he eventually will be back. For the crimes committed in 2002, he was sentenced to seven years incarceration, including intensive treatment for sexual offenders at a southern psychiatric facility.

Afterward, he will be subject to a five-year community supervision order.

In Justice Ted Richard's Supreme Court decision Jan. 9, 2004, he left conditions of the supervision order up to the National Parole Board once the offender is released.

"That board will benefit from the unsuccessful experience of September 2002 in its determination of what stringent conditions to impose in the supervision order," Justice Richard ordered in his decision.

Unfortunately for the parents of one of his victims, there is little consolation in knowing he may return to the streets of Yellowknife.

"I have no faith in the probation system and that they are capable of monitoring this youth -- that they have the capacity to track him and make sure he lives up to the terms of his release and probation," the father said.