COMMENTARY: After being shamed into doing the right thing, Trudeau owes some apologies

Turns out the “ambulance-chasers” were right all along.

In other words, it turns out that the federal government did indeed have the ability to deal with the outrageous situation of having a convicted child murderer serving time in a so-called healing lodge and that the issue never needed to become so heated and politicized in the first place.

The fact that it did rests at the feet of the prime minister and his government. As such, some apologies are in order — and not just to the opposition politicians who were smeared as “ambulance chasers,” but, more importantly, to the family of Tori Stafford, who have been put through a needless roller coaster of emotions.

It’s been about a month and a half since we first learned that Terri-Lynne McClintic had been transferred to an Indigenous healing lodge in Saskatchewan, less than a decade removed from her first-degree murder conviction stemming from the brutal rape and murder of the eight-year-old child. It was clearly the wrong setting for such an offender, all the more so given that we subsequently learned that McClintic is not even Indigenous.

Canadians were rightly outraged, and the opposition Conservatives were quick to call on the government to address the matter. It would have been simple and obvious for the Liberals to state their own shared outrage and immediately pledge to do whatever they could to fix this. Instead, the government’s response was about as tone-deaf as it could have possibly been.

The response from Trudeau and his various ministers involved defending the independence of the correctional system, defending the existence of healing lodges, and excoriating the Conservatives for raising the issue. When a vote was called on a Conservative motion demanding the government denounce and reverse the transfer, Trudeau — not once, but twice — called the opposition “ambulance-chasing politicians.”

It was as much a confusing insult as it was an unfortunate one. “Ambulance-chasers” is typically a derogatory term used to refer to personal injury lawyers. The brutal rape and murder of an eight-year-old child is hardly a “personal injury,” and sadly there was no ambulance that was there to try and save Tori’s life.

The government did ultimately relent and a review was ordered by the public safety minister. That review is now complete and, as a result, the minister has recommended a number of important changes. There will now be more oversight around these sorts of transfers, and additional factors will need to be considered, including the length of an offender’s sentence and a requirement that long-term offenders be at least into the preparation for release phase of their sentence. First Nations will also be consulted about inmate transfers.

More importantly, though, is the fact that McClintic is now back in an actual prison where she belongs. The transfer took place Wednesday evening and Tori Stafford’s family was notified the next morning.

Under different circumstances, we could applaud the government for acting swiftly and taking positive and necessary steps to improve the correctional system. In this case, unfortunately, the Liberals resisted the notion that any of this could actually be done and had to be shamed into doing the right thing.

Governments are always loathe to admit mistakes, and that certainly applies to the Trudeau government. It would be appropriate for them to acknowledge their missteps here, but no one should hold their breath waiting for them to do so.

With an election campaign looming next year, we’re entering an environment where it feels like almost everything is going to be politicized, including and especially matters pertaining to crime and justice. In this case, however, there was a lost opportunity for a bipartisan effort to push for change and to offer comfort and support to Tori Stafford’s family. Let’s not make this mistake again.

Rob Breakenridge is host of “Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” on Global News Radio 770 Calgary and a commentator for Global News.

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