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Ontario mother of children killed by drunk driver not allowed at parole hearing due to coronavirus

Click to play video: 'Drunk driver Marco Muzzo up for parole in spring' Drunk driver Marco Muzzo up for parole in spring
WATCH ABOVE (Jan. 28): The family who lost their children and father in a crash with drunk driver Marco Muzzo says it is bracing for an upcoming parole hearing. Caryn Lieberman reports – Jan 28, 2020

When impaired driver Marco Muzzo applies for parole in April, the mother of his victims, Jennifer Neville-Lake, won’t be allowed at the hearing due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I really want to say that, in this day and age, I am shocked, surprised and angry that there is no option of a secure teleconference or video conferencing for victims to be able to participate in these hearings,” Neville-Lake told Global News.

READ MORE: Parole hearing date set for drunk driver Marco Muzzo who killed 3 children, grandfather

The reason, according to a spokesperson for the Parole Board of Canada (PBC), was confirmed to be due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In an effort to protect the health and safety of the public, … the PBC has cancelled all observer attendance at its hearings until further notice,” explained board spokesperson Holly Knowles in a statement.

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This is not satisfactory to Neville-Lake who lost all three of her children, Daniel, nine, Harrison, five, and Milagros, two, plus her father Gary Neville, 65, in the horrific crash just north of Kleinburg in September 2015.

Muzzo had just returned from a bachelor party in Miami, when he was driving home in his Jeep Cherokee and plowed into the Neville-Lake’s Dodge Caravan. Muzzo was about three times over the legal limit of alcohol consumption while behind the wheel.

READ MORE: Marco Muzzo lack of insight into binge drinking habits led to parole decision

Muzzo pleaded guilty in 2016 to four counts of impaired driving causing death and two counts of impaired causing bodily harm.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Muzzo lost his first bid for release in November 2018, but he is applying again for parole on April 28.

Neville-Lake had every intention to be present at the April parole hearing and is now left with many questions.

“My main concern is how are we to be incorporated into this hearing remotely,” she said. “When I submitted my written statement, it was with the expectation that I would be there in person to present it.

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“Whilst I completely understand that I can’t be there in person, what is the process for making sure my voice is actually heard at this hearing?”

READ MORE: Criminal and family trials on hold as Ontario court takes new steps on COVID-19

In her statement, Knowles said, “The cancellation of scheduled observers, including victims, at upcoming PBC hearing is a temporary measure that will be reassessed on an ongoing basis.”

She also noted that victims “will still be able to request to listen to the audio recording of the hearing.”

That is not sufficient for Neville-Lake though, who said, “finding out their decision weeks later isn’t going to cut it as I am sure there will be delays in processing their reports and you know as well as I do that the report does not contain everything that is said.”

Living with constant trauma and fear, Neville-Lake said she will not be able to bear the delay in learning the outcome of Muzzo’s bid for parole.

READ MORE: Ontario courts shutting down in a bid to slow coronavirus

“We know that the courts use video conferencing systems for bail hearings and that a video link was used previously at the drunk driver’s last parole hearing in Gravenhurst.  Why can’t it be used again? I have the right to participate in these hearings,” she said.

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With respect to the use of teleconferencing, the PBC noted the information discussed at PBC hearings is confidential in nature and requires a secure connection to ensure the protection of sensitive information.

“As a result, victims/observers would need to attend a government facility in order to participate in hearings by way of video or teleconference which is not possible given the current restrictions in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” explained Knowles.

READ MORE: Marco Muzzo, convicted drunk driver who killed 4, denied day and full parole

Neville-Lake said she is well aware of the COVID-19 pandemic and that precautions must be taken during this time.

“I understand and am living through this COVID nightmare like everyone else,” she said.”I am communicating virtually in a variety of formats including with the PBC and Corrections Canada.

“In our virtually interconnected world of today that is designed to include everyone from anywhere, how can this be happening?”

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