Here we go again

SURREY – It’s no surprise at all that the man accused of murdering Surrey teenager Serena Vermeersch was a high-risk sex offender who’d been released into the community. Personally, I’d sussed it out last week, several days before Raymond Lee Caissie was arrested, and told a homicide cop as much.Not that I’m smart, or have a crystal ball. It’s the way it works here in Surrey, and the Vermeersch family is simply the latest one to be cast into this archetypal living nightmare.The question is, why do we seem doomed to see this scenario play itself out again and again?The murder of Serena Vermeersch, 17, brings back memories of Pamela Cameron, 16, in South Surrey and Melanie Carpenter, 23, in Fleetwood. They, too, fell victim to "random" attacks.All three were going about their daily business – Vermeersch was last seen boarding a bus in Newton, Cameron was killed a few minutes after leaving Muffin Break at Semiahmoo Shopping Centre, where she did her homework, and Carpenter was abducted from the tanning salon where she worked.The similarities are uncanny and demonstrate how little things have changed over the years.Cameron was murdered on Oct. 8, 1994. The Grade 10 Semiahmoo Secondary student’s naked body was discovered by Surrey RCMP dogs in a tangled forest near 20th Avenue, about 20 paces from 152nd Avenue. It was buried under a thick mat of rain-sodden leaves and her clothing was found about a block away, near a Dairy Queen.Her murderer not only robbed the teenage girl of her life and her family of their beloved daughter and sister, but also destroyed the tranquility of two Canadian communities nearly 5,000 kilometres apart, as Cameron’s family had moved to South Surrey from Milton, Ont., about two months prior to her untimely death. An autopsy revealed Cameron died of suffocation. Police refused to say if she’d been raped or strangled during the daylight attack, off the busy street.The public outcry was incredible. Political speeches were made and anti-crime rallies were staged. One rally drew more than 3,000 people to the site where Cameron’s body was found.After one of the most intense manhunts B.C. has ever seen, Mitchell James Owen turned himself in to police.Owen pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison with no parole for at least 25 years. Notably, before killing the girl, Owen had been granted parole from Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario, where he was serving 10 years for rape and armed robbery.Three months later, with Surreyites still reeling from the Cameron case, Melanie Carpenter was abducted on Jan. 6, 1995 from the Fleetwood tanning salon where she worked. Rallies and candlelight vigils were held, and speeches were made. Because she was abducted during daylight hours, a grassroots "Take Back the Day" campaign was launched.Several weeks later, a hiker found Carpenter’s body, concealed by a white blanket, in a crevice near an isolated road, four kilometres north of Yale. She’d been sexually assaulted and died of multiple stab wounds.The man believed to have kidnapped and killed Carpenter was convicted sex offender Fernand Edmond Auger, who was on mandatory release from Bowden penitentiary near Calgary after serving two-thirds of a two-year sentence for robbery. He’d been released four months prior to Carpenter’s murder. It may never be known if he was the killer, because he killed himself 14 days before her body was found.Auger was found dead in a rental car near High River, Alberta, having inhaled gas fumes. His suicide note left no indication of Carpenter’s whereabouts."If this guy was kept in jail, my daughter would still be here," seethed Steve Carpenter.More speeches were made, petitions were signed and rallies were held in protest against Canada’s parole system.At Bear Creek Park, roughly 2,500 people braved 1995’s cold February wind to turn out for a "March for Justice." The intention was to apply pressure on the federal government to have dangerous sex offenders kept in prison longer if they still pose a public risk.In Canada, a convict will generally be released after serving two-thirds of his or her sentence, but this can be revoked. Auger was released even though a prison psychologist reported he was at high risk of reoffending.This week we’ve learned – again, no surprise – that the man accused of second-degree murder in Vermeersch’s death, 43-year-old Raymond Caissie, has spent most of his life behind bars for sexual assault with a weapon, forcible confinement, robbery, theft and other crimes.Unlike the Carpenter and Cameron cases, Surrey residents did have the benefit of a warning, for what it was worth, about Caissie in the form of a public notification bulletin from the Corrections Branch on June 14, 2013, that the "high-risk sexual and violent offender" was "currently on bail supervision" and living in Surrey.Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts predicted Caissie would reoffend and expressed outrage that he’d been released into her community. And then, as time wore on, the public forgot about him, until his arrest in Vancouver this past weekend.So far, the public knows little about the circumstances of Vermeersch’s death, except that a Surrey Search and Rescue team found her body near railway tracks in the 14600-block of 66th Avenue. Homicide investigators have been tight-lipped about the details of the case as it is now before the courts, and Vermeersch’s family has not yet spoken publicly except to ask, through the police, that the media respect their privacy as they grieve.On Sunday afternoon, a rally will be held at the Newton Seniors Centre. It’s called "Take Back Surrey -Rally 4 Change," and is being organized by the Surrey Association of Sustainable Communities. Darlene Bowyer, one of the organizers, is expecting quite a crowd. "We’re getting a tremendous response."Bowyer says it’s a "grassroots campaign" not connected to any civic campaign. Lest we forget, the civic election is in November, and no doubt speeches will be made. Those running for mayor and council will have to walk a fine line between expressing genuine outrage over the murder and the danger of being perceived as trying to use this tragic death to further their own political ends.On Tuesday, the Safe Surrey Coalition led by former mayor Doug McCallum called for an "emergency" Surrey city council meeting in response to the "ongoing wave of violence." McCallum’s press release charged that, "With Surrey city council currently in Whistler attending the UBCM conference, the City of Surrey has been abandoned by those charged with ensuring the safety of residents."It’s "disgraceful," McCallum charged.Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts, who is not running again for mayor but intends to run federally for the Conservative Party in South Surrey-White Rock in next year’s election, expressed outrage over Vermeersch’s death and Caissie’s release from prison. She said Canada needs to have better measures in place to keep criminals from preying on the public.Surrey North’s New Democrat MP Jasbir Sandhu, meantime, fired a shot over her Conservative colleagues’ bow. He slammed the Tory government for planning to cut funding to Circles of Support and Accountability, a nation-wide program for sex offenders who have been released from prison. According to a story in the Huffington Post, a 2009 study revealed that participants in the program were 83 per cent less likely to reoffend sexually and 73 per cent less likely to reoffend at all."As of April 1, 2015, this funding is completely gone," Sandhu said. "In committee, parliamentary secretary Roxanne James suggested these organizations should look for private sponsorship.""As a parent I’m very concerned," Sandhu said. "These kinds of cuts are making communities unsafe. As a parent, I’m very angry. How do you reduce crime if you reduce funding for programs that are going to keep an eye on these individuals?" Asked about these cuts, Watts responded that the problem is larger than individual programs."The laws have to change. I can’t speak to a program that’s been cut. I think it’s more a systemic issue," she said. "The laws have to change – the safety of the general public should always override the offenders’."Ultimately, after the dust settles in this latest murder case, will anything really change? Perhaps we’re doomed to see these terrible crimes play out again and again because, in order to protect our own Charter Rights and Freedoms, the few monsters among us must also be afforded the full benefit of law.A case in point was serial child killer Clifford Olson’s infamous Section 745 hearing here in Surrey, in 1997. The section, also known as the "Faint Hope Clause," allowed for convicted murderers to apply for the eligibility to apply for parole after serving 15 years, on the faint hope they’d been rehabilitated.While not one person in Canada – the killer of at least 11 children probably among them – believed for a minute he would succeed in his bid, Olson was nevertheless entitled to his hearing, and during those four summer days did his level-best to further torment the families of his victims. The jury took little more than 12 minutes to return with a verdict of refusal and recommendation Olson not be allowed to apply for full parole until one day before his 25 year wait for eligibility expired. It was the harshest move the jury could make, unable as they were to recommend that he never be allowed to apply. Olson died in prison in 2011.Sunday’s "Take Back Surrey -Rally 4 Change" is set to begin at 2 p.m. at 13775 70th Ave., Newton. All considered, I wish them all the luck in the world.tzytaruk@thenownewspaper.com

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