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Family of murdered Montreal teen angered by COVID-19 parole board rules

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WATCH: Brigitte Serre was stabbed to death in 2006. Her killer, Sebastien Simon, has been in jail since then but is asking the Parole Board to allow him supervised visits outside the prison — a request Serre's family opposes. They want to face the teen’s killer at the hearing, but COVID-19 protocols are making that impossible. Global’s Dan Spector reports.

The family of a young murder victim is fighting to keep her killer behind bars as he seeks supervised visits outside the Archambault Institution, a federal prison in Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, Que.

Darlene Ryan says her stepdaughter, Brigitte Serre, was alone the night she died while working at a gas station in Saint-Leonard.

“You want to protect your kids. And we couldn’t,” said Ryan, adding that’s why she’ll continue fighting until her last breath.

“Because we couldn’t fight for her on Jan. 25, 2006. We couldn’t defend her. She was alone.”

Serre was 17 years old when she died after being stabbed 72 times by Sebastien Simon.

Simon, who was 18 years old at the time, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to 25 years or life in prison.

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Now in his 30s, Simon is set to have his second parole hearing on Oct. 26.

In 2019, Ryan was among a half-dozen people close to Serre who delivered in-person victim impact statements at Simon’s first hearing.

“Thank goodness we won. So he didn’t get released,” Ryan said.

Read more: Man serving life sentence for murder of Brigitte Serre denied request to visit wife outside prison

With COVID-19 restrictions now in place, Serre’s loved ones will not be able to attend the hearing personally.

They’ll have to deliver their statements over the phone.

Ryan feels the family’s rights as victims aren’t being respected, making for an unfair fight.

“Why is he being allowed to be heard fully? And I’m only allowed to be doing it by phone,” she asked, adding he also has a team of lawyers, caseworkers, psychologists  guiding him on what to do.

In a letter to Ryan, the Parole Board of Canada told Ryan teleconference hearings are a temporary and exceptional measure and assured her that board members must take all information into account.

“The PBC has implemented technological and procedural enhancements in order to provide victims, as an interim measure, the ability to participate at PBC hearings via telephone. Victims can listen to the hearing and present their statement for Board members to consider in their decision-making,” the letter reads.

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Sen. Pierre Hughes Boisvenu, a victims’ rights advocate, called the situation “unacceptable” and which goes against the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.

Boisvenu insists that at the very least, parole hearings should be done by videoconference.

“At least you see the guys, you’ll see the inmate and you see also the the commissary who will make the decision,” he said.

Read more: Brigitte Serre’s family outraged by killer’s request for release

Defence lawyer Phil Schneider agreed.

“Non-verbal communication is important. It has an impact and intensity that you don’t have just over the phone,” he said.

Boisvenu also took aim at Canada’s public safety minister, Bill Blair, stating he promised in April that victim’s would be able to attend hearings via videoconference.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for the minister said:

“We have enhanced necessary protocols in order to provide victims the ability to participate at hearings via telephone, and are undertaking the necessary testing and rigor to ensure a videoconferencing system, once up and running, will not face technological issues that would come between victims and their ability to participate parole hearings.”

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The ministry added that the Parole Board of Canada was “working hard” to put a system in place and start testing as quickly as possible.

“Minister Blair and the PBC have been in contact with the Victim’s Ombudsperson on these developments, and will continue to work collaboratively in this regard,” the statement concluded.

Schneider, however, points out videoconference calls are already happening every day in the justice system.

“We’re representing clients and we’re doing representations before a judge in a court of law. And nobody seems to be very worried about the security aspect of that,” he said, adding videoconference calls aren’t “that complicated.”

“It certainly can be done. You don’t need extremely expensive equipment and all you have to do is hook up with the links and start a conversation.”

Click to play video 'Montreal family of murder victim fighting for justice' Montreal family of murder victim fighting for justice
Montreal family of murder victim fighting for justice

Ryan requested the hearing be delayed until in-person attendance becomes possible, but the parole board cannot postpone parole hearing.

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They have a statutory obligation and it’s a statutory limit as to when they have to do it,” Schneider said. “So they have to do it in order to satisfy their obligations under the law.”

Ryan said she’ll take part in the teleconference meeting, even if it’s not what she was hoping for.

She wants to make sure the parole board commissioners know her stepdaughter truly was.

They see pictures of her and they’re crime scene photos,” Ryan said.

“So I want them to remember her not just as a victim, but as a person that he stole. He took away very violently. She was an important member of our family. So that has to be said.”