High-risk offender was released from jail just days before attack in Halifax

Click to play video: 'High-risk offender arrested in Halifax now facing more charges'
High-risk offender arrested in Halifax now facing more charges
A high-risk offender has been arrested by police in Halifax this week and is facing new charges, including aggravate sexual assault. Experts believe the man’s suspected re-offending so soon after being released from custody makes it one of the more challenging cases in the system. Zack Power reports. – Jan 17, 2024

Warning: This story contains disturbing content. Discretion is advised.

A man who is accused of attacking three women during two separate incidents in Halifax had been released from custody on unrelated charges just days before.

Gamon Jay Leacock, 49, is facing numerous charges, including aggravated sexual assault, unlawful confinement, robbery, and breaking and entering, after two women were sexually assaulted at a home Monday. He is due for a bail hearing in Halifax Provincial Court Friday morning.

According to Halifax Regional Police, a man entered a home on Clifton Street in Halifax and confronted two women with a brick and a broken bottle before confining them in a bedroom and sexually assaulting them. They managed to escape, and the man was arrested shortly after.

Just before the home invasion, police also investigated a carjacking incident that they allege involved the same suspect. A woman was threatened, assaulted and robbed after picking the suspect up.

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Leacock was just a few months out of prison and had been described by police as a high-risk offender.

In October 2023, police notified the public that he was residing in the community after completing a 14-year sentence for numerous offences that included robbery, sexual assault with a weapon, forcible confinement and administering a noxious thing.

The sentence stemmed from a 2009 attack at a home in Montreal, in which Leacock tied up a man and sexually assaulted a woman over the course of several hours.

A 2021 Parole Board of Canada decision determined at the time that Leacock was too high-risk to be released from prison. It outlined instances of him owning a shank while in prison, threatening to stab an officer and behaving aggressively toward female staff.

Suspect was arrested before Monday’s attack

On Jan. 5, Leacock was charged with extortion, uttering threats, criminal harassment, fraud under $5,000, use and possession of a stolen credit card and failure to comply with conditions of a court order.

The charges came after Leacock was accused of breaking into the home of a woman he knew between October and December 2023, and threatening her to obtain property and cash.

He was on remand from Jan. 5 until Jan. 9, at which time a peace bond was ordered with conditions and an undertaking order, Nova Scotia’s Public Prosecution Service said in a statement.

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On Jan. 12, the Crown stayed the charges against Leacock, which means the charges will not go to trial at the moment but may be revisited in the next year.

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A spokesperson for the Public Prosecution Service said they couldn’t speak to the specifics of the case, but the policy on Crown staying proceedings states: “Generally, a stay is appropriate when proceedings in regard to a charge are being discontinued and the public interest requires that the prosecutor retain the right to recommence those proceedings within one year (or within such shorter limitation period as may pertain to the charge).”

The attack against the women happened three days after those charges were stayed, and six days after Leacock’s remand ended.

Click to play video: 'High-risk offender facing sex assault charges months after release from prison'
High-risk offender facing sex assault charges months after release from prison

In a statement, provincial Department of Justice spokesperson Deborah Bayer said it is “understandable that (the) community may have concerns with high-risk offenders who have served their time and have re-offended.”

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The federal ministers of justice and public safety both declined to comment on the case.

Rob Moore, Conservative shadow minister of justice and the attorney general, said in a statement that the case demonstrates a “failure” in the justice system that “starts at the top.”

He noted the Criminal Code is within federal jurisdiction, and lambasted changes made by the Liberal government to amend Bill C-5 to eliminate mandatory prison sentences for some crimes.

“Innocent people are being harmed at the hands of violent repeat offenders who have been emboldened over the last few years in light of changes made to the Criminal Code that make life easier for offenders and put communities at risk,” Moore wrote.

In a statement, the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) said that “protecting the safety and security of our institutions and our communities is a top priority.”

“As part of this, CSC encourages and assists offenders to reintegrate into society. This is achieved through risk assessment, evidenced-based correctional programs, interventions and services, and when appropriate, conditional release under community supervision,” it said.

The statement said offenders who reach the end of their sentences are no longer under CSC’s jurisdiction.

“When there are reasonable grounds to believe that an offender whose sentence is about to expire poses a threat, CSC works with law enforcement to ensure that the public is adequately informed of the post-release status of high-risk offenders,” it said.

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CSC did not comment specifically on Leacock’s case.

Case ‘unusual,’ expert says

An offender risk assessment researcher says Leacock’s case is unusual, but more is needed to prevent such incidents from happening.

Maaike Helmus, an assistant professor of criminology at Simon Fraser University, said it’s rare for someone to allegedly reoffend so quickly after release from prison.

“This does seem to be an unusual case of a particularly high-risk, prolific violent offender,” she said of Leacock.

“Fortunately, these cases are fairly rare in our criminal justice system, but when they do happen, obviously, the consequences are quite catastrophic.”

As well, Helmus said recidivism rates are usually quite low – of those who have been convicted and sentenced for a sexual offence, about five to 15 per cent of them will be charged or convicted of a new sexual offence over the next five to 10 years.

Given the unusualness of Leacock’s case, she said this makes him a “prime candidate” for Crown prosecutors to consider applying for a dangerous offender designation if he is convicted of these new offences.

A dangerous offender designation is the “most severe sentence that someone can get,” Helmus said.

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“If someone is declared a dangerous offender, they go to federal prison indeterminately, so there’s no guarantee that they would ever be released from custody,” she said.

In terms of reducing recidivism of sexual assault cases, Helmus says more surveillance and monitoring after release isn’t the answer.

“What decades of research shows is sanctions and surveillance aren’t necessarily effective in preventing things from happening,” she said.

“The most effective way of reducing these types of repeat offending is with good-quality treatment that targets the things that actually predict someone reoffending, and ideally that intervention should be given as quickly as possible after the first offence – not after they’ve already repeated several times.

“People who commit sex offences tend to have more psychological risk factors developed from childhood, and the best way to prevent future victims is to target those things.”

Treatment, not vengeance

But Helmus said the criminal justice system, as it stands, is lacking in providing those kinds of interventions.

She said in the ’90s and early 2000s, CSC used to have a “really good system” of sex offender risk assessments, where they matched offenders to either low-intensity, moderate-intensity or high-intensity treatment programs.

“But then they simplified the treatment program over time … and kind of implemented more of a one-size-fits-all policy of all sex offenders getting the same treatment program,” she said.

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A big part of the issue is the justice system focusing more on punishment than rehabilitation, she said.

“A lot of people may want to focus treatment on, you know, beating shame into them and making them feel as guilty as possible for what they did out of a sense of vengeance,” she said.

“People want punishment. It makes us feel good, but it doesn’t make us any safer.”

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