The most important people — the offender’s victims — have now been allowed to participate remotely in Canada’s parole hearings.
The Parole Board of Canada has finally done the right thing and found a way for victims to call in to hearings during the current pandemic. And that is a very welcome reversal.
But it doesn’t go far enough.
The parole board will continue to exclude media observers, which means the public is shut out as well.
So when Marco Muzzo makes his bid for release next week, we aren’t allowed to hear how — or if — he has changed since the last time the drunk driving killer of four was denied parole in November 2018.
We aren’t privy to whether his corrections team believes Muzzo is now ready to rejoin society after serving over four years of his ten-year sentence. We won’t hear whether he finally admits to a problem with alcohol — after denying any such issues at his last hearing — and what he’s done to address it.
If Muzzo wants to move back into the community, surely that community has a right to hear why he thinks he deserves a second chance to go on with his life — especially when his selfish actions stole away the lives of four others.
After landing by private jet from his Miami bachelor party and with almost three times the legal limit of alcohol in his system, Muzzo got behind the wheel of his Jeep Cherokee and headed home to Woodbridge.
Jennifer Neville-Lake’s three children, parents and grandmother were heading home as well on that sunny September day in 2015 when Muzzo blew through a stop sign and T-boned their minivan.
Killed were Gary Neville, 65, Daniel Neville-Lake 9, brother Harrison, 5 and sister Milagros, 2.
Muzzo pleaded guilty and in 2016 was sentenced to a stiff 10-year term. He’s been serving time in minimum-security at Beaver Creek Institution in Gravenhurst and has been eligible for full parole since May 2019.
Due to COVID-19, the board understandably moved to virtual hearings last month. Less understandably, it announced that observers, including victims, would not be allowed to participate.
Since Mar, 20, Neville-Lake had been asking about virtual options so she can join the hearing for the man who killed her father and children. She was repeatedly told there was an issue with secure phone lines.
It took weeks of lobbying and outrage from the public for the board to reverse its position and announce that yes, victims can phone in after all.
“Thank you for all your support. When we work together we are stronger,” Neville-Lake tweeted. “We matter too. Victims rights matter!”
More than anyone, she and her family deserve to be there, even if it’s only through a telephone line. But it’s difficult to understand why the media won’t be allowed to dial in as well. The Ontario Superior Court now allows reporters to listen to hearings via teleconference. The College of Physicians and Surgeons allows the same.
The technology exists.
Inquiries to the parole board are met with the same usual answer — reporters can register to receive a written decision. But following Muzzo’s last hearing, a ruling wasn’t released until 13 days later.
For those of us who attended the hearing, though, we had the context to explain why he’d been turned down just three years into his sentence. We heard Muzzo in his own startling words muse that it would take eight or so shots before he’d consider himself impaired.
Being there meant we could also share the tragic victim witness statements from the family he decimated, with hopes that other potential offenders might think twice before getting behind the wheel after drinking.
There will be none of that this time.
“Not only must Justice be done,” goes the wise adage, “it must also be seen to be done.”
Instead, the public will have now have no eyes — or ears — on what transpires behind the closed doors at the Muzzo hearing.