The heads of Canada’s prison service and the parole board will be on the hot seat today as the House of Commons public safety committee begins hearings on the death of a young Quebec woman murdered by a convicted killer out on day parole.
Correctional Service Canada Commissioner Anne Kelly and Parole Board Chair Jennifer Oades are scheduled to be on Parliament Hill for two hours of answering questions MPs’ questions beginning at 8:45 a.m. ET. CBC News will stream the hearing live.
Marylène Levesque, a 22-year-old sex worker, was found stabbed to death in a hotel room in the Quebec City suburb of Sainte-Foy Jan. 22.
Eustachio Gallese, who was out on day parole at the time and serving a life sentence for killing his ex-wife in 2004, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in Levesque’s death last month.
The case touched off a political firestorm in the House of Commons over Canada’s parole board system and its decision to allow a man with a record of deadly violence against women to be released on parole — and to be alone with women.
Levesque worked in an erotic massage parlour and had met Gallese at hotels on multiple occasions.
Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus said he was outraged that the parole board knowingly allowed Gallese out alone to meet with women, pointing to a parole report that said the man’s parole officer developed a strategy that allowed him to meet women to meet his “sexual needs.”
“We need to have their perspective to understand the situation,” Paul-Hus told CBC.
Paul-Hus suggested that changes to the appointment process for parole board members brought in by the Liberals in 2017 politicized the process and led to the appointment of inexperienced members.
“I just want to know the truth and to know who had been weak or made mistakes … I just don’t want to finish saying, ‘OK, next time things will be better,'” he said.
Some former parole board members said changes to the nomination process introduced by the Trudeau government in 2017 led to a shortage of experienced members. Changes limited members’ terms and required them to reapply if they wanted to continue once their term expired. Some chose not to reapply, while others who did reapply were rejected with no explanations.
Paul-Hus said eight former parole board members wrote to the Liberal government in 2017 warning that the changes could create risk. He said he was not authorized to release the letter.
“They said if you don’t do anything, if you don’t change things, something will happen. And it’s happened,” he said.
During court proceedings last month, the Crown said Gallese had developed feelings for Levesque and grew jealous and angry when she became more distant. She agreed to meet him at a restaurant on Jan. 22, then went with him to a hotel.
Gallese admitted to planning the murder in advance, concealing a knife and stabbing Levesque in the abdomen 30 times.
The Crown said Gallese had planned to take his own life after killing Levesque, but instead turned himself in to police.
In 2006, he was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 15 years for the 2004 second-degree murder of his ex-wife, Chantale Deschênes. According to parole documents, he struck her on the head with a hammer and stabbed her several times, enraged by her decision to leave him.
After serving 15 years, he was granted day parole last March. He had been living in a halfway house at the time of Levesque’s death.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced in late January that Correctional Service Canada and the parole board would conduct a joint investigation “into all of the circumstances that led to the tragic death of Marylène Levesque.”
Last month, he also supported the committee’s hearings.
“I share the concern about this tragedy, as I think all Canadians do. We want to make sure that we get the facts and get to the bottom of this. It is one of the reasons we have asked the two federal agencies involved to convene a board of investigation,” he told the House of Commons on Feb. 4.
“That board of investigation will feature two external vice-chairs, and it has been convened to examine the circumstances that led to this tragic event. As well, we have made a commitment that its findings will be made public and transparent.”
The joint investigation is still underway, according to a CSC spokeswoman.
John Muise, a former parole board member and former Toronto police officer, said the committee’s hearings offer a chance both for a broader review of the system and to fix policy or legislative deficiencies.
“We could address some of the specific things that we could do to make things better in the system, to make things safer. I mean, that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “That would be a great thing.”