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Parole Board of Canada to allow victims to call in to hearings during coronavirus pandemic

Drunk driver Marco Muzzo up for parole in spring
WATCH ABOVE: 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)

Victims of crime will be able to call in to parole hearings in Canada and present victim impact statements for Parole Board of Canada (PBC) members to consider in their decision-making amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The announcement was made in a series of tweets Wednesday afternoon. It marked a change from what the PBC previously told Global News just a day prior.

“The PBC is committed to fulfilling its important public safety mandate amid the unprecedented challenged posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the inclusion of victims in its parole hearings,” one of the tweets read.

The news comes just days before the parole hearing for imprisoned impaired driver Marco Muzzo, who killed three children and their grandfather, in September 2015.

READ MORE: 510 new coronavirus cases in Ontario, total rises to 12,245 with 659 deaths

Jennifer Neville-Lake, mother of Daniel, Harry and Milly Neville-Lake, and daughter of Gary Neville, had yet to officially hear directly from the PBC. But she saw the tweets.

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“I hope this is true. I am so shocked and angry for all other victims who were denied their rights and access to the hearings. It should not be this tough,” she told Global News.

Neville-Lake spent weeks suggesting ways she and her husband could participate in Muzzo’s upcoming hearing.

“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 previously said.

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On Tuesday, PBC spokesperson Holly Knowles said in a statement that victims will be able to submit written statements or make video or audio recording submissions. But on Wednesday, Knowles released an updated statement.

READ MORE: Ontario woman barred from parole hearing of her father’s killer amid coronavirus concerns

“PBC has implemented technological and procedural enhancements in order to provide victims, as an interim measure during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to participate at PBC hearings via telephone,” she wrote, adding victims will be able to listen to the hearing and present their statement.

Information on how to participate in a hearing through telephone will be provided directly by PBC regional communications officers ahead of the scheduled hearing date.

Meanwhile, Neville-Lake said she has yet to hear.

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“I have been put through the wringer even worse than normal since March 20 when I started asking about the hearing for the drunk driver who killed my family,” she said.

“My life is tough enough. It should not be this hard.”

Global News, and other media outlets, will not be allowed to call in to listen to the parole hearings.

“Members of the public, as well as media, continue to have the ability to request written copies of PBC decisions through its decision registry,” Knowles notes.

Until Neville-Lake gets an official notification, she waits for answers.

Muzzo was about three times over the legal limit of alcohol consumption while behind the wheel when he drove his Jeep Cherokee into the Dodge Caravan carrying Neville Lake’s family.

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

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

“Until I am there, listening to the call, the anxiety and the fear and frustration of being denied my right to participate in these hearings won’t subside,” said Neville-Lake.

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“I didn’t choose to be a victim and it shouldn’t be this hard for any one of us.”

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

Aline Vlasceanu, executive director of Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime (CRCVC), said she hopes this remains an option in all future emergencies, like COVID-19, or for remote regions of the country where travelling for victims may be difficult.

“I am really pleased that they heard the voices of victims, and the CRCVC, alongside the many other advocates that strived to make this happen,” said Vlasceanu.

“I hope that they are able to implement this immediately throughout Canada so that no more victims are further traumatized by the system and that they can meaningfully participate as is their right within the Canadian Victim Bill of Rights.”

Vlasceanu said she also hopes victims that were previously impacted by the COVID-19 restrictions are also taken into account, and that “they receive appropriate responses and a method of recourse, which will have to be individual as per the needs of every victim.”