No longer demure as she was during dozens of court appearances facing her rapist, young K.W. now speaks with confidence and outrage at a criminal justice system she says failed her terribly.
It was five years ago Oct. 1 that Gilles Leger, the father of K.W.’s friend, raped the then 15-year-old on the back of an ATV during a camping trip at Gill Bar in Chilliwack.
An “exhausting” four-and-a-half years later, on Feb. 5 of this year, Leger was sentenced to three years in jail for his drunken assault on an innocent teenager.
A sentence far too light, according to K.W. and her family, particularly given the policy of statutory release, which meant he would have been released after just two years.
But what turned frustration into rage for K.W.—whose name cannot be used due to a publication ban—is that after just serving eight months of his sentence, the Parole Board of Canada granted Leger day parole last week, on Oct. 4.
“I didn’t even get used to the fact that he was in prison,” K.W. told the Times in an interview in Chilliwack after the decision.
“Victims are not considered at all. It’s not me versus Gilles anymore, I feel I’m against a whole system.
“I don’t feel very proud to be a citizen right now.”
An inmate at the notoriously cushy William Head Institution south of Victoria—sometimes referred to as “club fed”—where inmates wear their own clothes, live in duplexes and cook their own meals all amid stunning views of the ocean, Leger was already getting off light, according to K.W.
Then, just three months into his incarceration, she was told to get her paperwork in order; Leger was applying for parole.
“I thought it would be the first semester at school without having these interruptions,” the now 20-year-old said.
After several delays, and just eight months in to his sentence, last week a hearing was held for both day parole and full parole, according to Patrick Storey, spokesperson for the Pacific Region of the Parole Board of Canada.
Under the rules, Leger was eligible for day parole after six months and full parole after one year. Storey said for administrative purposes, both hearings were held at the same time on Oct. 4, although if he were granted full parole (which he was not) it would not have come into effect until February 2017.
Further tormenting K.W. and her family, is that Leger requested the hearing be conducted in French. K.W.’s mother called that a waste of taxpayer dollars since Leger speaks, reads and writes fluent English and has done so for 20 years.
“It also sends a message to the victim that the offender is still in control,” she said via email.
“The whole trial was in English,” K.W. added. “It’s another tactic he used to control the situation, and of course his rights are greater than mine. There is no accommodation for me. Every element is for him.”
Since there are no French-speaking parole board members in B.C., the hearing was conducted via video with Leger at William Head, K.W. in Abbotsford and the three-member board in Quebec.
The fact that her words had to be translated also likely took away from the power of her testimony, K.W. said.
She said she was told the main consideration for the parole board is the offender’s risk to reoffend, yet K.W. took detailed notes at the hearing. Reading from them she said Leger told the board he was “kind of scared” about reintegrating into society and he was unclear about his own plan after jail. He also never said he felt remorse about the rape.
“How is that not risky?” K.W. asked. “All he ever said is ‘I regret that it happened.’”
As part of his release, Leger has requested to reside at a halfway house in Edmonton. When asked if it was up to him where he goes, Storey said that Corrections Services Canada “works with the individual to develop a release plan tailored to meet the offender’s needs.
“He will go to a place where he [can] be supervised effectively.”
Storey said the victim’s testimony is considered and the geographic restriction K.W. requested was honoured. Leger will not be allowed to reside in the Lower Mainland nor will he be allowed to contact K.W.
“The one thing you need to know about serving his sentence in the community, is that his continued presence in the community is completely dependent upon his willingness to abide by his conditions,” Storey said. “A parole officer has the power to suspend his release, which means he goes back to the institution.”
‘Too pissed off’ to be done
All those conditions offer little comfort to K.W. who bravely came forward after a rape at the hand of a friend’s father, an act that instantly ruined friendships and changed her life.
The night of the incident in 2011, back at the campsite after the rape, K.W. said her best friend knew something was wrong.
“My eyes were huge. I was in a panic and started bawling my eyes out. I told her and she started saying ‘no, no, no, no.’
“My life just changed all of a sudden.”
In her statement at sentencing, K.W. explained how her friends turned against her, spread lies about her and bullied her.
“School became an absolute nightmare for me.”
And while through his lawyer Leger said he accepted the court’s verdict, he didn’t plead guilty and he has never apologized.
After the court case, K.W. approached the Times to tell her story, in part as an encouragement to other victims to come forward.
She testified in open court, even read her own victim impact statement in front of her attacker. And she said she wanted other victims of assault and rape to be brave in front of a system that seems stacked against them. Eight months ago she planned to pursue a career in counselling or victim services to help others in her position.
That was then. Now?
“I will have to consider a different job as being a victim service worker is out of the question for me now.”
Jaded by the process, the trial, and now the early parole for her rapist, K.W. is torn about the message she wants to get out.
“Not at all am I trying to send a message to not go to court or create even more silence,” she said. “But everyone is saying report it, report it . . . why fight a system that’s against us?”
Despite her turmoil about her role as a rape victim—or survivor—K.W. has gained power through telling her story.
And her rage at Leger and the criminal justice system has a new, potentially dangerous focus. If Leger thought he could escape this part of his past by heading to Edmonton to find construction work and live out his sentence on parole, he might be in for a shock.
“I have a plan to go to Edmonton and contact employers, newspapers, paste up posters of him,” she said. “I’m not dropping this.”
Asked if she was not concerned about being a vigilante, she said that Leger ruined her life so she intends on ruining his, “In the most legal way possible.”
This young woman is definitely not done.
“I’m too pissed off. I’m depressed, torn, I’m confused yet I’m determined all at the same time.”