September 29, 2018 11:00 am

COMMENTARY: Liberals offer tone-deaf response to child killer’s transfer to healing lodge

During Wednesday's Question Period, the Conservatives pushed for Prime Minister Trudeau to reverse the decision of transferring Terri-Lynne McClintic from a prison to an aboriginal healing lodge while the PM and backbench expressed outrage at the question.

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Liberals are often accused of having a blind spot when it comes to the criminal justice system, of being “bleeding hearts” who fail to appreciate the importance of punishment and deterrence. Ultimately, though, whatever truths lie within that stereotype, the political left and right probably counterbalance one another when it comes to shaping our justice system.

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For all our political disagreements about the balance between punishment and rehabilitation and how our justice system ultimately ought to function, there are some matters that should transcend the political divide. We are now confronted with one of those matters, and yet an obvious political consensus eludes us.

READ MORE: Corrections official stands by decision to transfer McClintic to healing lodge

We learned this week that the woman convicted of first-degree murder in the rape and murder of eight-year-old Tori Stafford has been transferred from a federal prison to a Saskatchewan healing lodge. It was 2009 when this beautiful young child’s life was snuffed out in the most horrifying way possible. It was 2010 when Terri-Lynne McClintic was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

Just so we’re all clear, it’s currently the year 2018 — less than 10 years after the crime was committed and less than 10 years into this sentence. This is the worst crime that exists in our justice system and it is outrageous that someone guilty of such a crime would be eligible for such accommodations so soon into what is supposed to be a life sentence.

McClintic’s transfer to the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge in Maple Creek, Sask., apparently occurred back in December. According to the description on the Correctional Service Canada website, the facility “contains both single and family residential units, as offenders may have their children stay with them. Each unit has a bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchenette with an eating area, and a living room. … The women learn how to live independently by cooking, doing laundry, cleaning, and doing outdoor maintenance chores.”

WATCH BELOW: What a healing lodge is and why child murderer McClintic is serving time there

While there are undoubtedly female inmates who belong in and would benefit from such surroundings, it should go without saying that this should not include anyone convicted of first-degree murder within the last decade. Such offenders belong behind bars — in the most literal sense.

It should also be obvious that someone convicted in the sadistic and brutal murder of an eight-year-old child should be nowhere near any sort of facility where “offenders may have their children” staying with them. And indeed, there are currently children at this particular healing lodge.

The outrage to this story was swift and far-reaching. Somehow, unfortunately, the Liberals have failed to clue into any of this, and rather than voice their own outrage, they’ve fallen into a morass of missteps and damage control.

READ MORE: On McClintic healing lodge transfer, Goodale cannot ‘give specific directions’ to reverse move

It got off to a rocky start for the Liberals as Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale went on television to not only defend the decision to transfer McClintic but to then refer to her crimes as “bad practices.” Goodale ultimately relented and asked for a review of the case to be done, but again, it doesn’t seem like a decision borne from any sense of outrage.

We then had Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott offer an impassioned defence of these healing lodges, describing them as places “proven to provide restorative justice” for Indigenous offenders. But why are they arguing this point? Not only is McClintic apparently not even aboriginal (and one does not need to be aboriginal in order to apply to be transferred to one of these facilities), but the issue here has nothing to do with the existence of aboriginal healing lodges or other measures aimed at providing restorative justice.

The Liberals also accused the Conservatives of playing politics with the case and criticized them for reading details of Stafford’s horrific murder into the official record of Question Period. These details are, of course, the facts of the case and perhaps those are needed to counterbalance the unfortunate notion that we are dealing with mere “bad practices.”

The obvious, right, and politically smart thing for the Liberals to do was to simply say “We, too, are outraged by this and we vow to get to the bottom of it.” There are conflicting opinions about whether the government can unilaterally overturn this decision, or whether McClintic herself could challenge a reversal in court, but there ought to be a sense of urgency in exploring all possible avenues.

READ MORE: ‘There is no expectation of proof’ for offenders seeking transfer to Aboriginal healing lodges

There is another politically awkward element in all of this for the Liberals. At a time when the Liberals’ commitment to “meaningful consultation” with aboriginals has been called into question, the chief of the First Nation where this healing lodge is located has raised concerns about having this offender on their land and lamented the fact that they’ve had no input into the matter.

The Liberals need to stop digging and take a moment and appreciate how angry and concerned so many Canadians are about this situation. Then they need to fix it.

Rob Breakenridge is host of “Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” on Global News Radio 770 Calgary and a commentator for Global News.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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