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Slain officer’s family pleads for change in parole system

Article by: Henry Stancu Toronto Star
– Karen (Sweet) Fraser, the widow of Michael Sweet, the Toronto police officer who was murdered 30 years ago, speaks out against the parole system.
For the first time since Const. Michael Sweet was murdered in a botched robbery 30 years ago, his widow and three daughters appeared publicly Wednesday to demand change in a system that protects the rights of violent criminals and ignores victims.
The Toronto Police Association and Sweet’s family have filed requests under the Access to Information Act to change Canada’s parole system that has subjected them to “nightmare” hearings.
Sweet’s killer Craig Munro has exercised his right to not be drug tested in prison and have his prison record and parole application details and interviews kept secret under the federal privacy act, while Sweet’s family points out they must endure the one-sided hearings.
“It torments us. The hearing itself is a nightmare. Having to sit just a few feet away from the man that brutally tortured and murdered my husband is almost unbearable,” said Karen (Sweet) Fraser, who was 29 at the time of the slaying. Her three daughters were 1, 4 and 6 at the time.
Shot and pleading for his life, Sweet slowly bled to death while Munro and his younger brother Jamie kept police at bay with a rifle and shotgun in Georges Bourbon St. restaurant on Queen St. W. on March 14, 1980.
Sweet, 30, had been on patrol when he walked into a robbery in progress. Craig Munro was on parole and under mandatory supervision for a previous gun crime.
Sentenced to life for first-degree murder, Munro, 59, was last month granted four unescorted passes annually by the National Parole Board a year after a previous board panel had rejected his application because he was deemed to be a risk to society and he continued to minimize his responsibility in Sweet’s murder.
Munro had also applied for early parole under the “faint hope clause” in 1997, but withdrew his application after a public outcry.
Jamie Munro was paroled in 1992 after serving his sentence for second-degree murder. He was reported to have moved to Italy.
“The request by the Toronto Police Association and the Sweet family for access to Craig Munro’s corrections/parole file were denied on the basis that it is protected by the federal privacy act and without the killer’s consent, no member of the public is entitled to see it,” said the association’s president Mike McCormack at the news conference attended by Sweet’s widow and three grown daughters.
“A lack of disclosure is not tolerated at a criminal trial and it should not be tolerated at a parole hearing,” he added.
Sweet’s daughters, Nicole, 31, Kimberly, 34, and Jennifer, 36, each made an emotional statement about how their father’s murder and the never-ending series of his killer’s attempts at freedom still haunts their lives.
Keeping their composure with their voices almost breaking at times, and seemingly drawing strength from their stoic mother sitting nearby, the young women spoke about growing up knowing their father was a good man who had tragically died begging for his life and fearing what might become of his wife and children without him to care for them.
“My father was an honourable man and he would be horrified to know that his wife and girls have to deal with the torture of facing Craig Munro again and again,” Nicole told the gathering at the police association’s North York headquarters.
“Everyone is so busy worrying about prisoner rights that they forgot about us,” said Kimberly, 34.
Jennifer, the oldest at 36, said the parole board had granted the family the right to have an agent represent them to avoid the annual trauma of facing the killer, but then abruptly turned down the request.
“To then be notified the evening prior to the hearing that this was no longer being allowed was an unspeakably cruel action to our family,” she said.
The association’s lawyer Tim Danson said the request to amend the privacy and corrections and conditional release acts is a “test” for the government to weigh the public’s interest against the Munro’s privacy.
“The murder of a police officer is a very public act. (Murdering) a public officer sworn to serve the people is not just a crime against the victim and the victim’s family, it’s a crime against society as a whole.”
“Mr. Munro’s arrest was public, his trial was public, his conviction was public, his sentencing to life in prison was public,” Danson added.
“You can’t be partially pregnant. Once public, always public and Mr. Munro should not be allowed to assert a privacy interest on his personal parole records when seeking a public remedy from a public government body,” he said.
Documents filed Wednesday on behalf of the police association and Sweet’s family request the Privacy Act be amended to exclude the institutional records of violent offenders seeking any form of release.
They also request the federal government support their Access to Information Act application, that the Corrections and Conditional Release Act be amended to stop annual parole hearings for violent criminals who are denied because they still pose a risk and allowing such applications only after five years unless a change in a prisoner’s conduct and attitude warrants a review after two years.
In addition, the application requests victims be allowed the option of having an agent or representative read their impact statements when they are unable emotionally to do so.
The appeals are supported and the conference was attended by leaders from police associations representing all municipal, provincial and federal police services across Canada.