(ANNews) – The Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) has launched a petition asking the federal government to reform the Parole Board of Canada after one of the men convicted for killing Métis hunters Jacob Sansom and Maurice Cardinal was granted day parole. 

MNA press secretary Kenny Trenton initiated petition e-4853, which is sponsored by Edmonton Griesbach NDP MP Blake Desjarlais, who is of mixed Cree and Métis ancestry. 

“The overall justice system needs an overhaul,” MNA president Andrea Sandmaier told Alberta Native News. The Canadian government has acknowledged this reality, with the ongoing development of its Indigenous Justice Strategy, as has the MNA, with its work on a Métis Justice Strategy

The petition, which was launched May 23, calls on Minister of Public Safety, Democratic Institutions and Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LebLanc and Minister of Justice and Attorney General Arif Virani “to prioritize the voices and experiences of Indigenous victims, ensuring that decisions impacting victims and their families, such as granting unescorted temporary absences, are made with an understanding of their significant effects on the community’s core sense of justice and security.”

It proposes three reforms to achieve this outcome:

That the government mandate “cultural safety training and culturally responsive measures” for all Parole Board of Canada employees, in accordance with Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call to Action 57, which calls on all levels of government to ensure public servants are appropriately versed in Indigenous history and “intercultural competency.”

That the minister update the Decision-Making Policy Manual for Board Members’ Policy 2.1 (Conditional Release Decision-Making) “such that specific consideration is given to systemic and cultural factors when reviewing a case where the victim is Indigenous or Black,” aligning the policy with UNDRIP Article 21, which calls on governments to “take effective measures and, where appropriate, special measures to ensure continuing improvement of [Indigenous] economic and social conditions.”

That Indigenous community members be permitted to participate in Parole Board hearings when the “circumstances of the case suggest the Indigeneity of the victim may have been a factor in the offence.”

Desjarlais told this newspaper that these demands offer a “pragmatic solution” to Indigenous justice reform while the Indigenous Justice Strategy is in the works. But he said he’s seen “no indication” that the federal Liberals appreciate the “urgency” of broader reform. 

Roger Bilodeau was convicted of two counts of manslaughter for his role in the March 2020 killing of Sansom, 39, and Sansom’s uncle, Cardinal, 57, in northern Alberta, receiving a 10-year prison sentence, half of which he was credited for having served in pre-trial custody. 

His son, Anthony, who fired the shots that killed the Métis hunters, was convicted on two counts of second-degree murder for both deaths, and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 13 years. 

The Bilodeaus didn’t call police or paramedics after they killed Sansom and Cardinal, leaving their bodies at the side of the road outside Glendon, Alta., a village with a population of 500. 

Sandmaier described how she provided support to Sansom and Cardinal’s families after their murder. 

“I attended hearings with them and the trial, and walked alongside them through this horrible, horrific experience,” she said. 

In early May, Roger Bilodeau was granted day parole for six months, with the Parole Board citing his lack of criminal history and cooperation with correctional authorities while in prison as reasons for his conditional release, a decision which Sandmaier said “deeply troubled our citizens and our government.”

“We want to make change, so this petition is the first step to make some changes to the way the Parole Board of Canada is dealing with Indigenous victims,” Sandmaier explained.

The Parole Board reportedly heard victim impact statements from the Sansom and Cardinal families, alongside more generalized statements from the Métis community, police and the broader community. 

“The hearings are very closed,” Sandmaier said, noting that the MNA had to apply to participate in the parole hearing. The petition is asking that participation from Indigenous community organizations be made mandatory in cases where the victim is believed to have been targetted based on anti-Indigenous racism. 

“I don’t think the family felt like what we were saying to the Parole Board was heard,” Sandmaier said. 

But it’s not just the family that’s impacted by the murders. Sandmaier spoke to her own experience. 

“Driving down a road is really scary. If I had to pull over, I’d be terrified. Citizens have told me the same thing—that person is now in the community and it’s trauma inducing,” she said. 

The issue also hit close to home for Desjarlais, the NDP MP sponsoring the petition in the House of Commons, who was raised not far from Glendon on Fishing Lake Métis Settlement. 

“I’ve always grown up in, been familiar with and experienced racism. I’ve experienced systemic issues that are plaguing much of rural Canada, but particularly rural Alberta,” Desjarlais said. 

He described a “growing sentiment” that the killing of Sansom and Cardinal is “another example of farmers taking justice into their own hands,” likening it to the 2018 killing of Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man who was fatally shot for trespassing on a farm in rural Saskatchewan. 

“I know that pain deeply and I know that it exists and continues to exist in Canada. There’s been calls to action many, many times by Indigenous people on parole board reform,” he said. 

Desjarlais said Sandmaier approached him about sponsoring the MNA’s petition.

“I offered them my support because I really do feel a personal connection to this work, because … it frustrates me personally to know that we have a Métis family going through this, bearing witness and suffering from these really brutal institutions that promised them justice,” he noted. 

Soon after Roger Bilodeau received day parole, his and Anthony Bilodeau’s efforts to appeal their sentences were quashed in separate Alberta Court of Appeal decisions

One of Sansom and Cardinal’s relatives reacted to this news with mixed emotions. 

“Every time that there is a new hearing, or parole hearing, we are brought right back to day one,” Gina Levasseur, Jacob Sansom’s sister and Maurice Cardinal’s niece, said in a May 7 statement from the MNA. “That day, our family, and the Métis community lost two incredible human beings that were important to us. 

“Maurice and Jacob’s deaths cannot be appealed, their deaths cannot be undone. It hurts that the system has given the Bilodeaus ample opportunity to continually de-humanize my brother and uncle as if their senseless murders were justified. The system needs to change, and we need action, more than ever, now.”

The MNA-initiated petition is open for signatures until Sept. 20. Desjarlais said he’ll present the petition in the House whenever the Sansom and Cardinal families indicate they’re ready.

By Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 31, 2024 at 12:49

This item reprinted with permission from   Alberta Native News   Edmonton, Alberta
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