Citizens United for Safety and Justice
Victim Advocacy is Born
In the late afternoon of August 2nd, 1981, after my cousin brought my 15-year-old daughter, Lise, home from her summer job, Lise decided she had an urge to go jogging before supper. That decision changed our lives forever. She left with a cheery ‘Good-bye’, and we never saw Lise alive again.
On the shoulder of the road a short distance from our driveway in Duncan, B.C., a repeat sex-offender was waiting. Paul Richard Kocurek had been released into our community on Mandatory Supervision (now called Statutory Release), after serving two-thirds of his sentence for sexually assaulting a four-year-old girl from a neighboring community.
Kocurek had borrowed a car from a friend and was cruising the area looking for prey when he saw Lise heading north from our house. Anticipating she would come back the same way, he lifted the hood of the car, pretending to have car trouble, and waited.
When Lise approached the car, Kocurek asked her for help to get water. What we didn’t learn until his trial was that he had in his possession a “starter gun” and a pair of handcuffs. He used the gun to force Lise into the car. With no way of escaping, he drove her past our house and up the mountain located behind our home.
When Lise had not returned by supper time, we started to worry, as she had always been careful to let us know where she was. We called family members and friends. After desperately searching all evening and late into the night, a search party made up of hundreds of volunteers found her body the following afternoon. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled.
We learned that members of the local RCMP were immediately suspicious of Kocurek as they had been advised that when released, he wanted to return to this area. They were also informed that he had to report to his supervisor (located in Victoria, about 50 kilometres from Duncan), as well as to the local Mental Health Centre. A couple of veteran local officers were aware of Kocurek’s past. He was quickly found, apprehended, charged, and later found guilty of first-degree murder.
The anger we felt that such a person was free in our community grew when we learned that before his release, the National Parole Board was so concerned about him that members had him evaluated by two independent prison psychiatrists. Both predicted that if released Kocurek would seriously hurt or even kill somebody. However, nothing was done about the warning and nothing was done when Kocurek was two days late for his appointment at the local Mental Health Centre.
Our entire community was outraged. Six weeks after Lise was murdered, on September 14, 1981, we attended a community meeting. Local residents, together with various politicians from the area, met to discuss how to lobby the government for changes to the Parole Act when dealing with dangerous sex offenders or other violent offenders. The group, which was comprised entirely of laymen, was initially chaired by a family friend, Dan Hughes. With no knowledge of the law in relation to crimes of a sexual and violent nature, the group had only a general idea as how to proceed.
At that meeting, the first victims’ advocacy group in Canada was formed, under the name Citizens United for Safety and Justice. Over the years, CUSJ has spread our message across the country, traveling to Ottawa several times giving presentations to parliamentary and Senate committees regarding the importance of having more stringent measures in place when dealing with violent and repeat sex-offenders. We have unsuccessfully lobbied for the abolishment of Section 745 of the Criminal Code which allows for early parole in some cases.
CUSJ has always been most concerned that high-risk offenders returning to our communities would not benefit from early release programs. We have suggested that The Mental Health Act could be used to transfer those who are deemed too dangerous to society, into institutions.
In early 1983, Dan Hughes (then the chairman of CUSJ) and I were invited to sit in on parole hearings in Abbotsford at the Mission Medium Security Institution. We had been told that three inmates had given their permission for us to be there. Two of them changed their mind and we ended up with only one in attendance. (He was denied parole).
After persistent lobbying from victims’ groups across Canada, the families of victims now have the right to be heard. They can prepare and read victim impact statementsin the courtroom. They can also request to be informed of, and are allowed to attend, Parole Board hearings.
Although changes have been realized over the years, particularly in terms of victim services, victims still need to be recognized and considered.
Co-founder and former chairman
Citizens United for Justice
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