'I wish we had known': Peter MacKay defends record over transfer of child killers to healing lodges

'I wish we had known': Peter MacKay defends record over transfer of child killers to healing lodges

Two former top Tory cabinet ministers said Wednesday they simply didn't know so many child killers had been transferred to Indigenous healing lodges to serve out their sentences — even though some of those transfers happened on their watch while in government.

The federal Conservative Party launched blistering verbal attacks on the Liberal government in recent weeks after federal bureaucrats authorized the transfer of Terri-Lynne McClintic — serving a life sentence for the brutal rape and murder of eight-year-old Tori Stafford of Woodstock, Ont. — to an Indigenous healing lodge in Saskatchewan.

"It's totally inappropriate and clearly the criteria at Correctional Services Canada was inappropriate then and inappropriate now, and further changes have to be made going forward to ensure the protection of the public," former justice minister Peter MacKay said in an interview with CBC's Power & Politics Wednesday. "I would suggest there is a blazing red line when it comes to the transfer of a child killer.

"I only wish that we had known this 10 years ago and taken proper steps to make those changes maybe this entire situation and the trauma for the Stafford family and others could have been avoided."

Stafford's father, Rodney Stafford, has strenuously opposed McClintic's transfer to the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge for Aboriginal Women on Nekaneet First Nation in southern Saskatchewan.

The Conservative party has said someone like McClintic — a convicted rapist and murderer who has served only eight years of a life sentence — should not be held in a facility like the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge, which does not have the traditional characteristics of a federal penitentiary, which lacks a secure perimeter to keep prisoners from escaping.

But despite the Conservatives' strenuous opposition to McClintic's transfer, she's not the first child-killer to be transferred to one of Canada's healing lodges — Indigenous-led, Correctional Service Canada-run facilities that focus on traditional spiritual practices as a means of redemption for convicted criminals.

Power & Politics reported Tuesday that as of September 23, 2018, there were 11 people convicted of first or second degree murder of a minor serving time in healing lodges. And between the fiscal years of 2011-2012 and 2018-19, 22 convicted child-killers have been held for some period of time in healing lodges.

Between the fiscal years 2011-12 and 2014-15 — when Conservatives Vic Toews and Steven Blaney were ministers of public safety — 10 new offenders were sent to healing lodges.

"It is beyond comprehension this happened in the first instance. Correctional Services Canada has to do a deep dive as to how this occurred," MacKay said.

Conservative Deputy Leader Lisa Raitt also served in cabinet under former prime minister Stephen Harper and has been leading the charge in the Commons against the Liberals on the McClintic file. She said she was surprised to learn so many child killers have been serving time at healing lodges.

'We did not see the public outcry'

She said the Conservative government she served was simply unaware child killers were serving part of their sentences in these facilities. If it had known, she said, it would have acted quickly.

The Liberal government did order a review of the transfer policy when the Stafford story came to light.

"I can say confidently that we did not see the public outcry for any of those transfers, even during my government, that we did with Mr. Stafford. At all," Raitt said today. "And what we reacted to was a parent's cry for justice, and that's why we brought up in the House of Commons and you know, along the way, if we needed to change the policy, then it's the right thing to do."

In the face of persistent criticism from the Tories, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale had said he has no legal power to intervene in individual cases, and that decisions about correctional and security classifications are made by public servants based on what is considered best for the offender's rehabilitation and for public safety.

Last week, however, Goodale announced stricter transfer policies for Indigenous healing lodges for women.

Under the new policy, transfers will have to be authorized by Correctional Service Canada's deputy commissioner for women, who will be required to ensure that Indigenous communities are engaged in transfer recommendations.

McClintic was transferred back to a traditional prison in Edmonton last week.