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Ontario’s probation system ‘a joke,’ say offenders

Kyle McLauchlan was convicted of child luring in 2013. He was sentenced to 18 months in jail, three years of probation, and 20 years on the sex offender registry.

But just two years later, he committed the same crime.

According to sources, not once did a probation or police officer check in on him in the community, to make sure he was following the rules of his release.

Those rules, laid out in his probation order, were clear: he was not to be in the presence of a child under 16 unless accompanied by his probation officer or an adult older than 21. He was also prohibited from using a computer or any other device that accesses the internet, without the advance written permission of his probation officer.

He was assessed by his probation officer as being a very high risk to re-offend.

WATCH: In part one of Global News’ investigation into Ontario’s probation system, chief investigative correspondent Carolyn Jarvis looks at how the lack of monitoring in the system is leaving many criminal offenders free to roam in the community with very few checks from probation officers.

Written into his case file, obtained exclusively by Global News, were the words, “monitor compliance with internet and device restrictions via self-report,” and “contact police if a violation is suspected.”

Despite his history of contacting children online, he was expected to tell his probation officer if he was using the internet.

Kyle McLaughlan

Kyle McLauchlan

However in 2015 he was arrested for child luring again, after he contacted a police officer posing as a child online. He was using the computers at the Durham Public Library.

WATCH: Scott McIntyre, probation and parole representative for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, tells Global News’ Carolyn Jarvis that offenders are sometimes asked to self-report violations of their probation conditions.

Checking in on offenders

At the beginning of April, there were about 43,000 offenders under community supervision at the provincial level in Ontario, which includes people on probation, parole and conditional sentences. This far outstrips the 7,850 inmates in custody.

Probation is a court order that allows an offender to remain in the community, subject to certain conditions. These can include things like meeting regularly with a probation officer, attending rehabilitation programs, obeying a curfew, or not possessing any weapons.

But probation officers report that they aren’t out in the community, monitoring whether offenders are abiding by those conditions.

One offender went even further, calling Ontario’s probation system “a joke.”

In 2016, “Leroy” was convicted of sexual assault. He received a conditional sentence in the community with a strict curfew, but he said that no one ever came to check if he was home.

“Nobody, nobody has ever come. No police, no probation officer,” he said.

“I could have done anything I want.”
– Leroy


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Leroy, (not his real name), maintains that he is innocent of the charges and that he never broke his sentence conditions. But he, along with other offenders, told Global News that the provincial probation system in Ontario isn’t keeping an eye on convicted criminals.

“They think it’s a joke,” said Leroy.

The only contact he had with his probation officer was when he would report to the office for a visit, he said. But he doesn’t think that was enough.

“You don’t know what is happening, what am I doing. You don’t know because you’ve never come to my house. You don’t know how much people lives in my house, you don’t know how much teenager lives in my house,” he said. There was a teenager living above him, he said, though he’s not sure if officers knew about it.

“If I were a real molester I would go back and do things because nobody watched me, nobody hits on my door.”
– Leroy

WATCH: ‘Leroy,’ a convicted sex offender, tells Global News’ Carolyn Jarvis why he thinks Ontario’s probation system isn’t working.

Marie-France Lalonde, Ontario’s minister of community safety and correctional services, disagrees that the province’s probation system is a joke. “I’m very proud of the work [probation and parole officers] do. I think they keep our community safe.”

She was concerned to hear that an offender felt that he could have done anything he wanted and plans to follow up on the issue.

“We do home visits at times when required,” she said. “My understanding is based on the assessments that our workers are doing, they will establish the type of home visits.”

And while she thinks home visits are important, “I also believe that having the person physically come to meet with our officers is equally as important.”

She said that the province has made many improvements since an Auditor General’s report was critical of the probation system in 2014.

“I wish that there was never an area that we need to improve but it does happen.”
– Marie-France Lalonde

“There is an assumption by both the judiciary and the public that… when an offender is placed on a supervision order with conditions to be in their residence, to adhere to conditions such as not to possess internet, computer, not to have drugs, alcohol, that someone in some law enforcement capacity is actually checking on them,” said Scott McIntyre, a probation and parole representative for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

“That’s the problem, no one is checking,” said Sarah – a probation officer whose identity Global News agreed to conceal to protect her job.

She wants to go out to visit offenders, but a colleague discouraged her. “I was told we don’t do home visits, flat out.”

Outside her office, she said, there’s little follow-up on what they’re doing, something she worries about.

“In some cases we are talking about violent, serious offenders that aren’t properly being monitored in the community.”
– Ontario probation officer

WATCH: A probation officer tells Global News’ Carolyn Jarvis that she was scared to learn that offenders aren’t being properly monitored in the community.

Ontario Court Justice Colin Westman said that he would find it “disturbing” to learn that this was the result of a sentence he imposed.

“If we are going to impose the conditions, we should be backing them up,” he said.

He believes in probation as an important tool for supporting and rehabilitating an offender. “To simply see them in the office, there’s something that’s not quite real. Let them see you at Tim Hortons, let you see them at their kitchen table where you get a better feel for the person and a better understanding.”

A useful tool

Ontario probation officers have limited means to keep tabs on offenders. They meet with them at the office. They can call employers or counsellors to check up on them.

But more than a dozen probation officers told us that they rarely do home visits, despite an internal workplace safety manual obtained exclusively by Global News that describes how valuable home and community visits can be.

According to the manual, community visits allow the officer to “monitor offenders’ compliance with the supervision order,” “establish a relationship with offenders” and can lead to “effective supervision” and “enhanced community safety.”

At the federal level, parolees are monitored very differently.

Federal parole officer Virginia Baird said that she frequently visits offenders at home and in the community, sometimes four or more people in a day. She finds these visits help her gather information and spot potential problems that could increase an offender’s risk of breaching parole.

WATCH: Break the rules of your probation for criminals at the federal level things are very different.

“If we’re at their house we can speak to other people that live with them,” she said. “And they can say, ‘Oh yeah, everything’s going good. He’s been really helpful this month,’ or ‘He hasn’t been as helpful.’”

By looking around the house, she may be able to tell whether the offender is having financial problems, for example, by seeing whether the fridge has food in it. She can then offer suggestions on programs or help that the offender can access to solve the problem.

WATCH: Ontario Justice Colin Westman explains why he thinks provincial probation should have the same level of supervision as the federal parole system.

Why home visits rarely happen in Ontario

In Ontario, provincial probation officers offer several reasons for not doing home visits.

Some, like Danielle Du Sablon, say they feel unsafe.

“We have no personal protective equipment,” she said.

“So if you’re attending a residence you have a pen and a cellphone and you cross your fingers.”
– Danielle Du Sablon

WATCH: Probation officer Danielle Du Sablon explains why they rarely do home visits in Ontario.

And because they work regular office hours, she said, probation officers don’t do curfew checks outside of those hours.

Lalonde told Global News that she had not heard that probation officers weren’t doing curfew checks.

“I haven’t heard exactly that aspect,” she said. She thinks there needs to be a larger discussion of why probation officers are not doing these checks.

“As a new minister, I would like to engage with them in that aspect to see why curfew they feel is not something that they feel strong about,” she said, and she plans to examine what can be done differently during an upcoming review of the correctional system.

Some other provinces do home visits though. According to their respective correctional ministries, BC, the Prairies, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador regularly visit offenders at home and in the community.

WATCH: In part two, Carolyn Jarvis has the fallout of a system that lets some criminals monitor themselves.

And although police want to help out probation officers, they also say it’s not their job to monitor everyone. “It’s a core responsibility of probation,” said Charles Bordeleau, president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police. “If they don’t feel they have the tools or the ability or the equipment that’s an issue they need to deal with but it’s not a core responsibility of police agencies to actively go and search out to ensure that individuals are abiding by their conditions.”

Leroy, the convicted sex offender, thinks Ontario needs to supervise offenders more closely. “I would say that the system, the probation system is not working properly because they give us conditional sentence and they put some of us in prison but after we came out there is no more follow up. They leave us on our own.”

“For you to have a better community you have to supervise these people.”
– Leroy

As for McLauchlan, he was convicted of child luring once again, sentenced to prison and to another term of probation – with almost identical restrictions as the last time.

Do you have something to say about how probation is run? Or do you have other story ideas for Global News investigations?

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Note: We may use your response in this or other stories. While we may contact you to follow up, we won’t publish your contact information.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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