COVID-19 is keeping this murder victim's family from attending the killer's parole hearing
MONTREAL -- The parole hearing for a man convicted of killing a 17-year-old girl will take place in less than a month, but the victim's family says the COVID-19 pandemic is keeping them from having their voices heard.
Sebastian Simon was convicted of the 2006 fatal stabbing of 17-year-old Brigitte Serre at the St. Leonard gas station where they both worked.
Simon pled guilty and was sentenced to life in prison, but 14 years later, is asking to be allowed supervised day visits outside of prison.
Serres' father Bruno and step-mother Darlene Ryan have written victim impact statements in advance of Simon's Oct. 28 hearing. Normally, the two would be allowed to attend the hearing and give those statements in person, but have been told this will not be the case because of the pandemic. Instead, they said they were offered the chance to tune in by phone.
“It makes me feel like I'm being victimized once again, but now by my own system, by my own government and not Sebastian Simon,” said Ryan. “I understand if it's too dangerous for us to go because of COVID-19 but then logically the whole thing should be put on hold until my rights can be respected.”
Simon applied for supervised leave once before, in 2019. Ryan said it's her belief that her family's impact statements helped convince the parole board not to grant him leave.
“Writing these letters is one of the hardest things to do,” she said. “It's not a fun experience. But we will do it, it's a necessary evil, we have to defend her rights.”
Serres and Ryan have written to the Parole Board of Canada to contest the ban on attending hearings but have yet to receive an answer.
In an e-mail to CTV News, the board said it could not comment on specific cases but that it is “committed to the health and safety of the public, offenders, its Board members and staff as it continues to adapt its policies and operations,” to the pandemic.
According to the board, 230 victims and 66 victim support persons have participated in 110 hearings via teleconference since April 22 and a videoconference ssytem is being implemented.
“At this time, the majority of PBC hearings continue to be conducted remotely by videoconference or teleconference. However, the PBC is working on a gradual return to in-person hearings, and is currently prioritizing Elder-Assisted Hearings and hearings for offenders who would have difficulty participating in a remote hearing. The first in-person Elder-Assisted Hearings were held this week.”
The family were among those who helped Canadian Senator Pierre-Hughes Boisvenu write the Victim Bill of Rights. Boisvenu said victim impact statement help parole committees come to their decisions while also giving families peace of mind.
“It's very important for victims to hear the criminal did during the 5 or 10 years in jail,” he said. “Has he worked on himself? Has he progressed in his rehabilitation or is he still dangerous? It's very important for the victims to know that when the guy will be released, he will not be making another victim.”