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Pushing victims rights in Ottawa

Local advocate Lisa Freeman was invited to Ottawa to share her thoughts on Canada’s correctional system

Oshawa resident Lisa Freeman, a vocal critic of Canada’s correctional and parole system following the murder of her father, was in Ottawa recently to meet with the interim Commissioner of Correctional Service Canada along with other leaders on Parliament Hill to share her thoughts and concerns.

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

For the past six years, Oshawa resident Lisa Freeman has become a fierce critic of Canada’s correctional and parole system, and now it appears they may be heeding her words.

Freeman’s father, Roland Slingerland, was murdered in February 1991 at the hands of Terry Porter.

For the first 20 years after her father’s death, it was something she didn’t discuss at all.

Then in 2012, she discovered Porter was eligible to apply for some forms of parole, community service leaves and had already gained escorted visits from prison.

Freeman was shocked, as prior to that, her understanding was Porter had no chance of parole until 25 years of his life sentence had passed by.

The situation, coupled with other circumstances, plunged her into the battle for victims rights that she is still fighting today.

In a previous interview with The Oshawa Express, Freeman was frank in her condemnation of the Parole Board of Canada and Correctional Service Canada.

“I don’t trust them at all…I don’t put any worth into what they say to me,” she said.

Her dealings with those two organizations inspired her to pen a book, She Won’t Be Silenced, released in late-2016.

However, over the past few weeks, Freeman has found some cautious optimism that her message might be getting through.

Earlier this year, Freeman urged supporters to assist her in producing a video to convey her concerns into a visual medium.

“I asked for Canadians across the country for their input on something I wrote – a put ‘my words into action’ kind of thing,” she says. “I made a video and it went viral. It got a lot of people talking, which is always good.”

The video shows other victims of crime holding signs with Freeman’s written words.

“These are strangers from across the country. My words resonated with them and they said yes, they’ll participate in sending a message to Correctional Services Canada on how they feel.”

Freeman sent the letter and the video to Anne Kelly, the interim commissioner of Correctional Service Canada.

She claims she received a generic letter, ‘a kiss-off letter’ as she calls it, in return.

Undeterred, Freeman researched Kelly and found her quoted as saying she “enjoys a challenge and finding solutions.”

“I sent her a letter at the beginning of June referencing that quote. I thought she can’t argue with me if I’m throwing her own words at her,” she says.

The technique proved successful as she received a personal letter from Kelly, inviting Freeman to meet with her in Ottawa.

In late July, Freeman sat down with Kelly and her assistant commissioner and laid out her concerns, slamming the current government for what she sees as a department that is providing no room for improvement, and are showing no effort to open up lines of communication with victims of crime.

Freeman did not hold back during the conversation.

“I told her as a private citizen of this country, I feel Corrections Canada does a poor job. As a victim of crime, I feel like they are doing a shockingly appalling job with being sensitive towards people.”

She also told Kelly she believes Corrections Canada is “so far removed from the reality of what victims of crime have to deal with”, it only functions for the offender.

To Freeman, in many cases, the actions of the government body lack common sense.

“There’s a case in Oshawa, where an 89-year-old grandmother was stabbed to death by her neighbour, a young woman. As part of the woman’s work release program, she’s going to placed doing minor repairs in an elderly person’s house,” she explains.

“I said to the commissioner, where is the common sense in that, and she was very surprised.”

Kelly promised she would check into the situation and find out what happened, something Freeman sees as a “huge step forward.”

On every piece of correspondence Freeman receives from Corrections Canada, there is a banner stating all the information is confidential in order to protect the privacy of the offender. This, she says, is ridiculous.

“I don’t think you have the right to bully victims of crime to protect the privacy rights of the offender,” she says. “You have to remember about our rights because I have freedom of speech as well. And no banner that you have will ever stop me from talking to the press or posting my information online.”

To her, the family of the murdered woman would “love to go to the media and speak about what’s happening but they are too frightened of this confidentiality banner.”

While she feels Kelly didn’t necessarily agree with her, Freeman credits her for listening.

“At least she heard me out, which I thought, you know, I have to give her due credit.”

After 45 minutes with Kelly, another meeting took place with three other high-level staff.

“They took all the concerns I brought up in the first meeting to the second meeting. I was surprised by that. So they legitimately tried to find solutions and that surprised me,” she says.

And while she was happy with how the meeting went, Freeman assured she wouldn’t be easing up on the fight.

“I said I will follow up and make sure they have [checked into everything]. Just to make sure they don’t think I’ve come to say my piece for an hour-and-a-half and forgotten about it.”

During the day she also met with the Ombudsman for Victims of Crime and Oshawa MP Colin Carrie and his staff.

“On the whole, it was a very positive, very busy, full day.”

But her motivations are not only on her behalf.

“It’s not just for me personally. I want to see (changes) but I hope that it will benefit everybody who may not have the resources; the ability to take off work; or the tenacity,” Freeman says. “Not a lot of people have the tenacity to put up with the nonsense all the time; most people would just walk away.”

Carrie has served as an ally to Freeman in the past during her battles with the Parole Board of Canada.

At an impact statement hearing in 2013, she was named twice in front of her father’s killer, something that left her feeling “violated.”

Through a private member’s bill introduced by Carrie, laws were changed so victims are given a choice of how they’d like to be addressed at parole meetings, or even if they want to be addressed.

Over the past year, Freeman volunteered with Victim Services of Durham Region, helping others with the difficult task of writing a victim impact statement.

“Writing an impact statement is so very hard to do. It’s one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do, and I have a background in writing,” she notes. “To revisit the past is so traumatizing, but you don’t want to miss anything.”

To victims of crime, they are afraid of what the Parole Board “won’t hear.”

“It’s a very daunting prospect.”

Freeman has plans to develop an ‘impact statement handbook’ of sorts.

“The Parole Board of Canada has a template but it reads like a police report, there’s no emotion to it.”

As for Porter, he transferred to a jail in B.C. last year that was about 10 kilometres away from where Freeman’s sister lives.

She says she heard of Porter’s transfer 24 hours after it occurred, which made her livid.

He has moved again, now serving at William Head Institution, a minimum security-facility on Vancouver Island. The facility has been called “Club Fed” by some due to its lax restrictions.

“Even though technically he’s not behind bars, I’m glad he’s still restricted somehow,” Freeman says. However, she believes Porter is being set up for release again.

“He’s up for parole in 2020, so he can apply any time between now and then. My wish is he would stay in jail for the rest of his life, but I’m not that naive anymore.”

Asked if his release causes distress for her, Freeman says she cannot let it control her life.

“What are the chances of this man coming back and finding me or one of my family members, pretty slim. But what are the chances of this happening to my dad in the first place,” she says. “You always have to err on the side of caution.”

Even with the progress she’s experienced, the fight is not over.

“I won’t stop. I’m just going to keep working,” she reveals. “It’s funny because I thought this summer, I’ll take it easy in July and August, but I’ve been so busy.”