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Aboriginal parole hearing for Haitian-born killer 'disrespectful:' victim's dad

01/17/2012 02:01 EST | Updated 03/18/2012 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - A father says the man who murdered his teenage daughter should be denied an aboriginal parole hearing because it makes a "mockery" of Canada's First Nations people.

Michael Manning's 15-year-old daughter, Tara, was raped, smothered and stabbed dozens of times in the family's suburban Montreal home nearly 18 years ago.

The Parole Board of Canada has granted the girl's killer an elder-assisted hearing, which is usually reserved for aboriginal offenders and is conducted in a setting designed to be sensitive to their traditional cultures.

The agency does allow some non-aboriginal inmates to use the process.

But Manning argues the Haitian-born man — who was convicted in 1997 of first-degree murder — should not be allowed such a hearing because, to his knowledge, he doesn't have a First Nations background.

"It's like sticking another knife into our family — he stabbed Tara 51 times, what kind of crap is this?" Manning asked Tuesday in an interview from his Montreal-area home.

"Aboriginals fought for a long time to try and get special rights and privileges ... It's disrespectful and it's a mockery to our First Nations, Inuit and Metis people."

Manning found his daughter's body in her bed on May 5, 1994, when he went into her room to turn off her alarm clock.

Her killer cannot be named because a court ruled he was a minor at the time of the slaying.

While the Parole Board of Canada says elder-assisted hearings do not improve an inmate's chances for release, Manning believes the killer requested one for exactly that reason.

"For me, it's a joke," said Manning, who planned to attend Wednesday's parole hearing at the Stony Mountain Institution in Winnipeg.

"This isn't just supposed to be (for) some clown that decides to better (his) chances, or to look better to the parole department."

After the murder, Manning successfully campaigned for new federal DNA legislation by conducting a cross-Canada speaking tour.

The 1995 law gave police new powers to collect genetic samples — like blood, hair and saliva — to develop DNA profiles of suspects and compare them with crime-scene evidence.

The Parole Board of Canada describes elder-assisted hearings as a "culturally responsive" process.

"The PBC recognizes that the presence of someone from the same culture as the offender plays a key role in assisting aboriginal offenders at conditional release hearings," said a fact sheet posted on the agency's website.

Agency spokesman Gary Sears said a non-aboriginal offender can request an elder-assisted hearing, but the person must first prove to have been "engaged in aboriginal cultural or spiritual activity and programming, and that they have addressed their needs through that particular understanding."

Sears said the main differences between an aboriginal hearing and a standard process are that a parole-board-appointed elder is present, participants sit in a circle rather than at a table and offenders can ask that a prayer be held.

The aboriginal hearings, introduced in 1992, are conducted by the same board members who preside over standard parole hearings.

Sears insisted they offer no advantages to an offender.

"As with any other decision by the Parole Board of Canada, public safety is the paramount concern," he said.

"The risk-assessment framework used by the board members in reaching their decision is exactly the same."

The parole board granted elder-assisted hearings to 492 inmates during the 2010-2011 fiscal year — with 56 of them being non-aboriginal. In each of the previous four years, a comparable percentage of these hearings were given to non-aboriginal inmates.

The agency could not immediately provide information about any previous requests made by the man convicted in Manning's death.

Manning said his daughter's killer was denied a request for conditional parole in 2007.

He said he was stunned by the level of secrecy shielding an inmate's privacy and urged the federal government to provide more information about offenders to victims' families.

With more details, Manning believes he could have better prepared his victim impact statement for Wednesday's parole hearing.

"I hope they make the right decision and they don't release him from prison," said Manning, adding he thinks about Tara every day.

"As far as I'm concerned, he should never, ever be released."

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