What is “undue risk to society”?

Dear editor:

The recent decision of the Parole Board of Canada to grant unescorted passes to convicted murderer Kevin McMurrer reopens old wounds and raises concerns about the Parole Board’s acceptance of patterns of violence against women.

The Parole Board assesses that Mr. McMurrer does not “present an undue risk to society.” This seems an unbelievable claim about a man who murdered his ex-wife in her workplace in 1989, assaulted a woman when first paroled in 2001, broke conditions of his next parole by contacting a woman at her workplace in 2007, and had parole again revoked as a result of substance abuse-related problems in 2008. Under the terms of his current day passes, he must “report all intimate… relationships and friendships with any females.” This evidence suggests a clearly established pattern of pathological abuse, mostly directed against women.

If this is not “undue risk to society,” we badly need to reconsider what we, as a society, accept as a risk.

If a violent man is a risk to the women and children he has a relationship with, that alone is a terrible “risk to society.” Every woman and child is a vital part of our society with the right to live free of violence and free of fear.

Beyond that, from past decades of unrelenting work to end violence against women and children, we have learned the hard way that “risk to society” includes not only risk to the person in a current or former relationship with an abuser, but also to families and friends associated with her. As Kevin McMurrer’s pattern of invasion of women’s workplaces demonstrates, the risk extends to people a woman is close to: her co-workers and her family, friends, and neighbours. It is not true to suggest someone is “only” a threat to the person he has had a relationship with.

As Kevin McMurrer’s murder of Carrie Ellen Crossman tragically demonstrated, it is not enough to leave or end an abusive relationship. In fact, the most dangerous time of all for an abused woman is when she attempts to leave her abuser; a quarter of all women who are murdered by an intimate partner had already left the relationship.

Family violence and violence against women are a risk to all of society. Violence is a problem for all of our society to address.

Every woman’s life matters – no matter what her current or past relationships are, or with whom. On average, one woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner every six days. On any given day in Canada, more than 3,300 women (along with their 3,000 children) sleep in an emergency shelter to escape domestic violence. Justice Canada tells us that spousal violence costs Canada $7.4 billion every year. On top of that economic cost, you cannot put a price on a life.

Only weeks after Carrie Ellen Crossman was gunned down by Kevin McMurrer, the horrifying national tragedy known as the Montreal Massacre saw 14 women singled out in hatred and murdered because they were women. In Prince Edward Island, in the 25 years since Carrie Ellen Crossman died, eight other women have died at the hands of men who knew them.

During the past 25 years, the purple ribbon has become a powerful symbol for Prince Edward Islanders who want to take a stand against violence. When we wear a purple ribbon, we take a stand to create a society that prevents and ends violence. When we wear a purple ribbon, we say that violence against women by their intimate partners is a “risk to society” that we are unwilling to accept.

We hope the Parole Board of Canada hears and understands these messages when they face decisions about what constitutes an “undue risk to society.” To us, unescorted day passes under the terms set for Kevin McMurrer are too great a risk to bear.

Diane Kays

Diane Kays is the Chairperson of the Prince Edward Island Advisory Council on the Status of Women.


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