By Angela Espinoza, News Editor
The September 16 death of 17-year-old Surrey teen Serena Vermeersch has caused mass debate on the topic of releasing high-risk offenders in BC. In what’s been described as a random attack, Vermeersch was the alleged victim of Raymond Lee Caissie, 43, who was released in June 2013 after a 22-year prison sentence.
Several Canadian political figures, including Attorney General Suzanne Anton, Justice Minister Peter MacKay, BC Premier Christy Clark, and Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts have publicly stated their disproval with releasing Caissie, or any high-risk offenders back into their respective communities, following the murder of Vermeersch. Repeatedly the word “preventable” has been used in addressing the case, suggesting Caissie should have remained in prison for an indefinite amount of time.
Caissie’s initial sentence was in 1991 for the sexual assault, unlawful confinement, and robbery of a then-21-year-old BC woman. While reform is certainly possible for some, Caissie maintained a long history of violence inside prison, refused rehabilitation programs, and openly stated he did not wish to be released.
When Caissie was eventually released, the RCMP issued adamant public warnings that he was likely to reoffend. According to the Surrey RCMP notice of Caissie’s release, he was “to be supervised by the Surrey Probation Office and monitored by the Surrey RCMP.”
“We need to find a better way to ensure the public is protected from dangerous offenders by ensuring we have enough tools, and it’s a matter that I will be discussing with the RCMP and my federal colleagues,” said Anton in a public statement.
Electronic monitoring devices such as ankle “bracelets” are typically used for offenders of smaller crimes in BC, but may be introduced to high-risk offenders following the Vermeersch case.
However, Douglas College criminologist Nahanni Pollard told CBC, “In a situation like this, I think that would be probably less helpful, because it’s not going to be able to tell you what an offender is doing at any one time.”
Clark and MacKay are adamant that Caissie should never have been released. “The only way to prevent dangerous repeat offenders from committing other crimes is to not let them out into the community,” Clark told CBC.
“We’re looking at ways in which the very worst, those who are most violent, those who have committed offences, murder, in concert with other violent offences against the public and the individual, that they’re never released,” said MacKay in a public statement.
The Vermeersch case has also brought into question how many high-risk offenders are currently living in BC. According to CBC, “there are currently 31 offenders” that are considered high-risk living in various BC communities—two of whom are electronically monitored.
Caissie is on trial for the second-degree murder of Vermeersch as of September 22.