‘Justice system puts women at risk’

Bonnie Learning
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Courts need to impose long-term offender status, says director of women’s council

The Mokami Status of Women’s Council (MSWC) is hoping women in Labrador will touch base with the organization to get help if they find themselves in need of assistance. They are concerned especially about violence issues. MSWC employees include from left —Victoria Pilon, Thrifty Fashions employee, Sandy Kershaw, MSWC executive director; Nancy Hamel, Thrifty Fashions employee; Samantha Churchill, service navigator; Jackie McCarthy, counseling psychology post-graduate student; Krystal Saunders, program coordinator; Leanne Hill, finance and administration manager.

The executive director for the Mokami Status of Women Council in Happy Valley-Goose Bay says the recent release of a known violent offender is disturbing.

Sandy Kershaw is referring to the release of Sem Paul Obed, a Labrador man who walked out of prison a free man on Aug. 29 in New Brunswick, after serving his full two-year sentence for a violent attack on bartender in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in August of 2012.

“We are not out to vilify an individual, but when someone has such a long history of violent behaviour, we feel the justice system is letting society down,” said Kershaw.

“When the justice system does not designate known violent and sexual offenders as a high-risk offender, we feel they are knowingly putting women at risk.”

Immediately following Obed’s release, the Halifax Regional Police and the RCMP issued a public warning about his intention to head to the Halifax area.

Const. Pierre Bourdages, public information officer with the Halifax Regional Police, said the warning was issued in the city due to Obed’s violent history.

“Although Obed does not have official violent offender status, the Department of Justice in Nova Scotia has a protocol in place, whereby if an individual has been assessed by professionals while institutionalized as being a high risk to reoffend, a committee will be put in place to determine if public notification is warranted,” said Const. Bourdages.

Bourdages noted that many high-risk offenders find themselves back behind bars after release because they violate the conditions of their release.

In an earlier story on Obed’s release published online by The Labradorian on Aug. 26, the National Parole Board of Canada noted Obed did not have any conditions imposed by the provincial court which sentenced him to prison for two years plus a day in 2012.

However, Bourdages said the RCMP in New Brunswick, where the system allows for such, imposed conditions.

“The New Brunswick RCMP applied for a peace bond on Obed, to set conditions on him after his release,” he said.

“They have to be notified of any changes in appearance, and he is not allowed to consume alcohol, be in a bar or liquor store, and is under curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily.”

Kershaw said that was a good move on the part of the New Brunswick RCMP and the HRP and said the MSWC also does what they can to inform women in Labrador about the release of violent offenders into the community.

However, Obed does not having long-term offender (LTO) status, and Kershaw says this lack of designation by the justice system is troubling.

“It’s disturbing because when you take this issue and make it a ‘women’s issue,’ it automatically lessens it,” she said.

“Our organization and other women’s organizations, have a lot of work to do to make this more important in the justice system.”

Kershaw said the MSWC is blessed in that it has a positive working relationship with the RCMP and the two entities are working together to work on different strategies to address violence in the community.

“Domestic and sexual violence is rampant in Labrador,” said Kershaw. “It is pervasive in every economic strata, whether low-income or high-income.

“But if we don’t talk about it, it stays hidden and the cycle continues. It’s a societal issue and women need to know there are places to go for help in the community.”



Organizations: RCMP, Halifax Regional Police, Women Council Department of Justice National Parole Board of Canada

Geographic location: Labrador, Happy Valley, Goose Bay New Brunswick Halifax Nova Scotia

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