Some of B.C.'s most notorious fraudsters are being released from jail as a result of a court decision that says their rights were violated by a change in legislation aimed at keeping white collar criminals behind bars.
The Parole Board of Canada says it started expediting accelerated parole review hearings for about 50 first-time non-violent federal inmates last week after a stay was lifted on a B.C. Supreme Court ruling last summer.
The ruling said denying accelerated parole to offenders sentenced under the old law was like punishing them twice. According to parole documents obtained by CBC News, the board approved full parole Monday for one of the offenders who launched the court challenge, Judith Lynn Slobbe, despite serious concerns the 65-year-old convicted con artist is a high risk to re-offend.
The board was particularly concerned about Slobbe’s attempts, while in prison, to "insert" herself into the financial affairs of another inmate.
"You have an entrenched criminal attitude and lack empathy for the victims of your frauds, and the length and depth of your criminal record supports the conclusion that you are a high risk to reoffend in a general manner, specifically through fraudulent activity," the decision reads.
"The Board concurs. However while the Board is very concerned about your risk to reoffend in a manner similar to your index offences, the Board is required by law to only consider information relating to your risk for committing an offence involving violence."
Before it was abolished in March 2011, accelerated parole review was available to first-time federal offenders serving sentences for non-violent crime. After serving one-sixth of their sentence, they were approved for day and full parole based solely on the question of whether or not they posed a risk of violence.
In June, a B.C. Supreme Court justice ruled it was unfair to apply the new rules retroactively to offenders like Slobbe. Parole Board spokesman Patrick Storey says the decision applies to about 50 offenders, but only those in the region which falls under the jurisdiction of the B.C. court.
"The board's hands are essentially tied," Storey says. "There are people who do get their first federal sentence who pose a considerable risk to re-offend in a non-violent way but the law, as it was written and as it now has to be applied for those who were sentenced under the old law – the board has to review them on that basis."
That includes Bryan Tickell, a 34-year-old who was sentenced in June 2009 for stealing more than $1 million from vulnerable seniors while he was working for B.C.'s Public Guardian and Trustee. In May, parole board members rejected his bid for day parole at an in-person hearing under the new guidelines.
"The Board found that your presentation was glib and lacked credibility, with you minimizing your responsibility for your index offence. The Board concluded that you demonstrated a complete lack of insight into both the causes and consequences of your criminal behaviour," Tickell's decision reads. "The Board concluded that you remained a moderate risk for re-offending, and denied day parole."
But on Monday, as a result of the Supreme Court ruling, the Board was required to give Tickell an accelerated parole review. The outcome was in little doubt.
"The Board is satisfied that there are no reasonable grounds to believe that, if released, you are likely to commit an offence involving violence,” the new decision read. “That said, the Board has considerable concerns about your risk for committing non-violent fraud type crimes in the community."
Storey says Ian Gregory Thow is also one of the dozens of offenders now guaranteed a chance at accelerated parole, thanks to the decision. The notorious Victoria-area investment advisor was handed a nine-year sentence in March 2010 for bilking dozens of victims, many of them seniors and family friends, out of more than $8 million.
In January, parole board members denied him parole because they decided he still represents an undue risk to the community.
Like Tickell, Thow showed little insight into his crimes.
"You essentially robbed many of these highly vulnerable people out of their quality of life," Board member Ian MacKenzie said at the time. "We got the distinct impression that some of your answers were rehearsed. You seem only to become emotional when you're talking about yourself or your legacy."
But because Thow's crimes didn't involve any violence and he appears to have acted as a model prisoner, he's likely to earn release in the accelerated parole process, which involves a paper review of an inmate's file as opposed to the in-person grilling where board members rejected his remorse as staged and phony.
The B.C. Supreme Court decision applies only to offenders sentenced before March 28, 2011. But the decision found that applying the new rules to people like Slobbe, Tickell and Thow breached their rights under Section 11 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states that if a person has been found guilty and punished for an offence, they won't be tried or punished for it again.
Slobbe's victims say they're disgusted at the thought of her earning any type of parole, accelerated or otherwise. She was given a sentence of seven years and seven months in April 2010 after swindling a Richmond care home and a group of Vancouver Island seniors out of more than $800,000. She has a lengthy criminal record dating back four decades, involving frauds committed against friends, family and strangers.
Flore Cyr is one of 17 Port Alberni seniors taken in by Slobbe.
"Throw her in jail and throw the key away," Cyr said Thursday. "I don't believe she'd dare show her face in Port Alberni again. Well, if I was her, I wouldn't.
"She's like a kind old grandma. So, well, you believe a person is so nice, she'll pay us back, but lo and behold she didn't."
Cyr's husband, Ron Davis, says Slobbe may not be physically violent, but her actions have taken a toll on her victims which is just as bad.
"It's a long term effect. It dwells on your mind and stays there. And in a sense is attacks your system and wears you down. People like that – as far as I'm concerned – should be condemned by the devil himself."
The Parole Board has placed special conditions on Slobbe. She can't gamble and has to provide detailed financial information to her parole supervisor. But she will be able to serve the remainder of her sentence in the community.