Lisa Neve was once Canada’s most dangerous woman. In 1994, she was jailed indefinitely and became one one of only four Canadian women in history to be given a dangerous offender designation.
She hasn’t spoken publicly since that dangerous offender status was controversially overturned back in 1999 and she was released. On Tuesday she sat in front of a Senate committee to testify on the human rights of prisoners in the federal correctional system.
The Senate committee on human rights is conducting a “comprehensive cross-country study” and was in Edmonton for what it calls a “fact-finding mission,” looking into what really goes on inside local correctional facilities.
“I want people to know you can’t take away someone’s life and tell them they are unredeemable at 21 years old,” Neve told Global News in an interview. “I’m not Canada’s most dangerous woman. I’m Lisa Neve. I’m a sister, a partner, a friend.”
Neve has more than 20 convictions on her record ranging from forcible confinement to aggravated assault. She said the convictions stem from five incidents.
She left home when she was just 12 years old and was in and out of correctional centres starting at the age of 15. Neve lived with mental health issues and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. She said being put on medications to help regulate the illness changed her life.
“I’ve had a crazy life,” Neve said. “When the judge said my sentence expires at my natural time of death, that was the most profound thing.”
Neve said knowing she would never get her life back inspired her to make a change. She said she was also deeply affected by victim impact statements given in court.
“There are all of these people testifying about all of these horrible things you’ve done and it makes you feel less than human,” she said. “You hurt these people with no regard until it’s too late. You can’t say sorry.”
Neve said she heard similar stories while going through a victim-reconciliation program while she was incarcerated.
“It has an immense impact on the way you feel,” she said. “You don’t know the impact until you hear a full story.”
Neve testified that the program helped her to change her life around and would see benefits if more programs like it are introduced in more correctional facilities.
What she doesn’t want to see more of is dangerous offender designations, especially for women.
“It’s got to stop,” she said. “Women who have been declared dangerous offenders, if you put them up against a man it’s so vastly different.”
It’s something Senator Kim Pate, who is on the Human Rights Committee, agrees with, while pointing out that the majority of dangerous offenders in Canada are Indigenous, like Neve, who is Métis.
“We should really take pause because many of them have histories of abuse,” Pate said.
According to Correctional Service Canada, in 2016, 681 people were serving sentences with a dangerous offender designation.
In response to 1969’s Ouimet report, the federal government repealed the habitual offender and dangerous sexual offender rules in 1977 and introduced the current dangerous offender system.
“We have relegated issues like homelessness, violence against women and addictions to the prison system because it’s the only system that can’t say no and turn people away,” Pate said.
Pate would also like to see changes to the records provisions that would have a record expire after a sentence ends.
“The stigma and the long-term impact of a record is huge,” she said. “We don’t hear about the many, many people who have committed offences, have been charged, convicted and sometimes gone to prison and then are doing really well.”
Pate said that Neve’s is one of those people that she would describe as doing well. She hasn’t been in trouble with the law since she was released and Pate believes she never will be.
“We will never see her back in the criminal justice system,” she told Global News on Wedneday. “She’s certainly put to rest any concerns that the label she had was justified.”
Neve appeared nervous in her media interview after she testified but said it was important for her to tell her story. She said she wants to help those who are currently living in prison or in a criminal lifestyle and their families.
“I’m a survivor. I’m going to do good things. I’m going to help people,” Neve said. “I believe anyone can change.”