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Public safety over Gladue: B.C. dangerous offender denied parole after 25 years behind bars

Tara Desousa was 15 years old when they sexually assaulted an infant in Quesnel in 1997
The Parole Board of Canada has denied Tara Desousa, 40, parole once again, out of a belief that they still pose a potentially high risk to the public. This image has been cropped from the original photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg

Warning: This story discusses various kinds of abuse and may be distressing to some readers.

The Parole Board of Canada has once again refused to release Canada’s youngest dangerous offender from jail, now a quarter of a century after the Quesnel-born two-spirit person was convicted of sexually assaulting an infant.

In their Sept. 20 ruling, the board recognized the impact of colonization and an abusive childhood on now 40-year-old Tara Desousa, but ultimately ruled that they still pose too high a potential risk to be public to be granted parole.

Desousa was just 15 years old (and then known as Adam Laboucan) in 1997 when they sexually assaulted a 3.5-month-old boy while babysitting him in Quesnel. Desousa was handed an indeterminate prison sentence in 1999 and, with it, the title of Canada’s youngest dangerous offender.

Since then, Desousa has requested full or partial parole on numerous occasions. This year, the 40-year-old asked to be released into the Lower Mainland, with plans to try and get a job in construction.

In their request denial, the board credited Desousa with being highly motivated, engaging in healing with Elders and completing a construction course. It also recognized the “clear” impacts colonization and intergenerational trauma have had on Desousa, who is of Metis-Cree heritage, pointing to one of their caregivers being taken during the Sixties Scoop and the history of abuse and substance use in Desousa’s family.

The board said Desousa was physically, emotionally and sexually abused as a child. They were also bullied in school, sent into foster care and introduced to drugs and alcohol at a very young age, according to the decision report.

All of these are factors known as Gladue principles that members of the justice system are asked to consider when making decisions on Indigenous offenders.

Still, the board said its responsibility is the protection of society above all else, and that Desousa’s latest psychiatric assessment of being at a relatively high risk of reoffending poses too great of a potential danger. The board also pointed to recent emotional outbursts, disrespectful behaviour and drug use as indicators that Desousa’s actions outside the confines of a prison could escalate into dangerous situations.

“While correctional officers and other CSC staff are trained professionals who can restrain themselves when they are subjected to your vitriol, there is no similar protection in the community,” the board wrote.

It encouraged Desousa to work on a more gradual release plan and commended them for requesting more trauma counselling funding, which would allow them escorted temporary leave from prison.

Desousa’s lawyer asked that their case be assessed again in six months time, but the board said that wouldn’t be long enough for Desousa “to show a true commitment to better managing your impulsive and aggressive behaviour.”

It will review the request again in one year instead.

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About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media.
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