A former cabinet minister who oversaw B.C. Corrections says the North Fraser Pretrial Centre escape of Rabih Alkhalil and how the RCMP has communicated about the incident have dealt another blow to public confidence in the justice system.
Coquitlam RCMP said Alkhalil, 35, was dressed in a black jumpsuit and high visibility vest when he left in a white Ford Econoline van at 6:48 p.m. July 21 with two men posing as contractors. The next day, RCMP released photographs of the alleged accomplices and claimed they had identified them. RCMP was forced to admit July 23 that the photographs were not of the suspects, but stock photos published around the internet that resemble the suspects.
“I have never in my 32 years in policing, and my time since policing, seen such an inept investigation on a suspected murderer that has escaped from one of our secure institutions,” said Kash Heed, the Solicitor General and Public Safety Minister in 2009 and 2010.
“I visited that institution, you just have to look at the incredible surveillance system that they have there, the quality of that system, and how could you not have images of individuals that assisted in that escape not available to the public,” Heed said. “But you have photos taken off the internet, that are not even them, that you publish as accomplices to the escape?”
Heed said there are overlapping security systems and checks and balances.
“For you to get into the facility or anywhere near where some of the prisoners would be, especially some of these high risk prisoners, you will have gone through several surveillance systems or you ought to have gone through several surveillance systems, which would have captured your image,” Heed said.
The public deserves a full explanation, including for the delay in issuing the original bulletin about the escape and the confusion created by the publication of fake identification of the suspects.
“[Alkhalil] obviously had a well-planned escape plan, and who knows where he is right now, whether he is sitting low and waiting for things to calm down, or he’s already made his way to another country,” Heed said. “Will we ever know? I’m not sure. But do we have confidence that the investigation will lead us or give us the answers? No, I don’t have the confidence in it.”
Alan Mullen, who was chief of staff to former Legislature Speaker Darryl Plecas, spent 10 years as a correctional manager for Kent Institution and frequently visited North Fraser Pretrial Centre for inmate transfers between the federal and B.C. systems.
“We definitely have more questions than answers at this point, it’s not clear whether these two accomplices even entered the institution, it’s not clear whether they were on the compound or just outside the fence, whether they were in the building, we don’t know, how deep they actually got in,” Mullen said. “We do know if given the reports that a blowtorch was used and one of the fences was compromised.”
While Solicitor General Mike Farnworth has said there will be an investigation, Mullen said it needs to be independent and conducted by someone who is from out of province and who knows the corrections system, in order to prevent another escape.
In November 2007, it was an inside job. Omid Tahvili escaped North Fraser Pretrial Centre with help of guard Edwin Ticne. Tahvili was sentenced to 11-years in absentia for kidnapping. Ticne was sentenced to three years in prison.
Mullen said Alkhalil’s escape should also spark dialogue about whether to hold violent criminals and gang associates for long periods of time in a place like suburban North Fraser or at a higher-security federal institution in a rural area.
“I think there’s an opportunity to house them at a facility that’s better equipped to handle that level of, inmate high-profile, whether it be at Matsqui Institution or Kent or Mountain. You can still be on pretrial status, you can still be on a provincial status, you’re not, inhibiting their rights or freedoms, any more than you would at North Fraser, they just happen to be housed at a facility that’s better equipped.”
A key question for an investigation would be inmate-to-officer ratio. The more crowded a facility, the more officers are needed to prevent an escape.
“How did this individual happen to be at that fence, at that specific time? I mean, the timing is impeccable. This was well-planned. This was well thought out, and it was well executed,” Mullen said. “It’s scary that this can happen.”
Alkhalil was one of four men convicted and sentenced to life in prison for a 2012 murder in Toronto’s Little Italy during a Euro soccer watch party at a cafe. He was arrested in Greece in 2013.
Alkhalil’s first degree murder trial will go on without him on July 27 in B.C. Supreme Court. He is charged with the Jan. 17, 2012 killing of gangster Sandip Duhre at the Sheraton Wall Centre Hotel in Vancouver. Hells Angel Larry Ronald Amero is also standing trial for conspiring to murder Duhre.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Miriam Maisonville told the jury that Alkhalil had absconded and said she would instruct them later how to handle that fact. She also warned jurors to ignore any media reports about the case and reminded them that Alkhalil remains presumed innocent until the Crown has proven guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
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