As a first time Member of Parliament I greatly value the advice and wisdom that is often shared with me by more senior and veteran elected officials from all levels of government. In particular, a recent MLA report from Speaker of the House Bill Barisoff really hit home for me. In his December 17 comments Mr. Barisoff spoke of the unpleasant but important need for publicly elected officials to be in tune with death and tragedy. In my relatively brief time as an MP I have already noted that, while serious tragedies often make the headlines, the media spotlight is quick to shift to other issues of the day, all too often leaving the victims and their families behind. For the past year I have worked closely with the family of Lynn Kalmring. As I shared with the House of Commons recently, Lynn Kalmring was a loving mother, sister, daughter, and friend to all who loved her. Lynn's life was tragically taken from her in a senseless and brutal act of domestic violence. The suffering and immense hardship for the Kalmring family did not end with Lynn’s passing; rather, it was only the beginning of an ongoing challenge that, in many ways, only victims of such a tragedies truly understand. It should not have to be this way.
Likewise, although I have only briefly met with a few of the family members who have suffered greatly at the hands of Allan Schoenborn (the man who took the lives of his three children in Merritt, B.C.), his legal status of being found not criminally responsible for this heinous act continues to terrify the family and victims to this very day. It should not have to be this way.
In yet another example, long time Okanagan-Coquihalla residents may recall the 1997 tragedy that occurred in Summerland. Kevin Machell, who was released on parole, senselessly murdered Tammy Grono and her mother Cecilia at a motel in front of his own pre-school aged children. These murders occurred in spite of a restraining order against Kevin Machell. In fact, the victim who had feared for her life as a result of death threats was neglected to even be notified that Machell was on the loose and that he had failed to report to a half-way house. Sadly those children grew up without a mother or grandmother by their side. It should not be overlooked that this tragedy occurred some 16 years ago. Today families involved in similar tragedies continue to be victimized by a justice system that all too often puts the rights of criminals ahead of the victims and ahead of public safety. It should not have to be this way.
This past Friday I had the honour of supporting our Prime Minister at an event as he announced the “Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act”. This act will introduce several important changes that will help to put the rights of victims ahead of criminals, as well as aiding in protecting the public and reducing these acts from occurring in the future.This legislation will ensure that victims are specifically considered in the decision making process and more importantly are notified when a person found Not Criminally Responsible (NCR) is discharged; including the creation of non-communications orders. This legislation will also create a High-Risk Designation– individuals designated by the court as high-risk must be held in custody and cannot be considered for release by a review board until their designation is revoked by a court. Under the existing law, it is a review board and not the court that determines when these individuals are no longer considered a “significant threat” to public safety.This increased judicial oversight will be guided by the principal that public safety is the paramount consideration in the decision-making process relating to accused persons found to be not criminally responsible.
In my view these changes are long overdue and I am proud to be part of a Government that is finally taking action and putting the rights of victims first and enhancing public safety in the process. The families of serious domestic violence should not have to live in fear for their safety and continue to be victimized by offenders.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.