Board members' inexperience possible factor in parolee's killing of sex worker, ex-members say
Published Wednesday, January 29, 2020 5:13PM EST Last Updated Thursday, January 30, 2020 1:39PM EST
MONTREAL -- A change to the Parole Board of Canada's nomination procedures that resulted in a lack of experienced members may have been a factor in the murder of a 22-year-old sex worker allegedly killed by a man on parole, two former board members said Wednesday.
The man, 51-year-old Eustachio Gallese, had been granted permission by his case-worker to visit sex workers.
In separate phone interviews, Dave Blackburn and Jean-Claude Boyer said changes brought in by the federal government in 2017 meant that the vast majority of the existing board members were replaced with people without prior experience.
Blackburn and Boyer say that inexperience may have played into the 2019 decision to renew the day parole of Gallese, who was previously convicted of murder and is accused of killing Marylene Levesque in Quebec City last week.
"If you don't have experienced board members and just new people, some mistakes can happen, some issues can happen," Blackburn said. "And in this file, with Gallese, I see lack of experience."
Questions have been raised around the board's work following Levesque's death in a Quebec City hotel room last Wednesday.
Gallese, who is charged with second-degree murder in her death, was sentenced in 2006 to life in prison without possibility of parole for 15 years in the 2004 killing of his 32-year-old partner, Chantale Deschenes. She was beaten with a hammer and repeatedly stabbed. Gallese also had an assault conviction against a previous partner in 1997, the board noted.
When it extended his day parole last September, the board noted that a "risk-management strategy" had been developed to allow Gallese to meet women, "but only to respond to your sexual needs."
According to the Quebec City newspaper Le Soleil, Levesque had been working out of an erotic massage parlour. But Gallese had reportedly been banned from the building because he had been violent with other women, so the two met at a hotel in the city's Ste-Foy district.
Boyer said an experienced board member would have revoked Gallese's parole upon learning that a man with a history of violence against women had been given permission by his case worker to frequent sex workers -- which is in itself a crime, he said.
He noted that the parole board's decision expressed concern about the strategy, which they called a "worrying and significant risk factor," but did not act other than to require that Gallese disclose any relationships with women.
"The board members were made aware of this at the hearing and they said, 'That's inappropriate,' and they wrote, 'Risk is getting important,' and they did not act," said Boyer, who served on the board from 2012 to 2018.
"What they had to do was immediately revoke his freedom to have a hearing within three months to figure out what happened."
Blackburn, a professor of social work at the Universite du Quebec en Outaouais who served on the board for three years and ran for the Conservatives in last year's election, called the strategy "disgusting and unacceptable" and said it treats sex workers as second-class citizens.
"This woman was a person like everyone else in Canada," he said. "She has all the right to be protected like any other Canadian, and that's not what happens with a strategy like that."
Both Boyer and Blackburn said the changes to the nomination process, which included the requirement that all members reapply for their jobs instead of having their mandates renewed, meant that 14 of 16 Quebec board members were new to the position.
In the past, a new board member would always be paired with an experienced one who could help train and guide them through the hearing process, they said. Afterwards, that was no longer possible in most cases.
In 2017, Boyer, Blackburn and several other former members wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to raise concerns about the changes, but they say they didn't get a response.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told the House of Commons on Monday that a full investigation will be conducted jointly by the Commissioner of Corrections Services and the chair of the Parole Board of Canada to determine the circumstances surrounding Gallese's release and ensure lessons are learned from it.
His parliamentary secretary, Quebec City-area MP Joel Lightbound, defended the nomination process for board members as "rigorous."
"There is fairly intensive training that is given to all the members when they're nominated, nominated for their experience," he told The Canadian Press. "So it is members who have resumes that lead them to assume these functions."
As for the criteria to determine parole eligibility, he said they haven't changed from those used by previous governments.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2020.