In 1999, Dennis negotiated with Federal Solicitor-General Andy Scott, successfully securing $160,000 for Toronto’s ROPE Squad – the Repeat Offender Parole Enforcement program. The following article by Alan Cairns of the Toronto Sun, published in 2000, provides first-hand details of how important the ROPE Squad is and how the added investment from the Solicitor-General bolstered the work of Toronto’s Police Service.
July 23, 2000
Corralling the killers
Toronto squad works on shoestring to track fugitives
By ALAN CAIRNS — Toronto Sun
All talk, no action. That’s how members of the Toronto Police force’s Repeat Offender Parole Enforcement squad are feeling towards government bureaucrats.
Officials agree the four-member squad’s work in catching more than 300 desperadoes has been outstanding and they support the force’s $3.3-million-a-year plan to expand the unit across the province.
But while provincial officials orally endorse the plan, neither the province nor the federal government has made any moves to put it into action.
“One of the surest means to reduce serious crime as well as save money by reducing future investigation and prosecution dollars,” is how the Ontario’s Office for Victims of Crime described the plan in its recent report, a Voice for Victims.
“It makes sense … the sooner the better … it’s the right thing to do,” Ontario Corrections Minister Rob Sampson says.
“It doesn’t take a Rhodes scholar or a doctorate to know escapees and parolees who screw up are dangerous,” says Steve Sullivan, of the Ottawa-based Resource Centre for Victims of Crime.
“It only makes sense that someone should be out there looking for them … not just in Ontario, but across Canada.”
But the lack of government funding and resource support for expansion has frustrated Toronto Police Association president Craig Bromell.
“We’ve needed this a long time. But more now than ever before,” says Bromell, noting a federal prison system push to get more offenders out on some form of early release.
As of today, parole officers across Canada have signed 966 arrest warrants for federal parolees and escapees who are unlawfully at large. Of these, 248 are in Ontario and more than 200 in the Toronto area. Ontario has another 300 or so provincial parolees who are AWOL — 263 in Toronto.
Canada does not have an agency to chase fugitives, such as the U.S. Marshal’s service or the FBI. Typically, arrest warrants sit on a shelf and gather dust.
Front-line police officers know the dangers all too well.
In March 1995, Sudbury Const. Joe MacDonald had no idea the car he pulled over in a routine check carried Clinton Suzack, a violent drug gang enforcer who a month earlier had been released from an Ontario jail and had run from a Hamilton halfway house. Suzack and his buddy, federal parolee Peter Pennett, broke MacDonald’s leg and shot him to death.
Four years ago, Det. Steve McAteer started the four-member Toronto ROPE squad to work with federal parole officers to nab escapees and parolees who went underground.
Two years ago, then-federal Solicitor-General Andy Scott, encouraged by Broadview-Danforth MP Dennis Mills, cut a $160,000 cheque to the squad for equipment.
McAteer recalls Scott was enthusiastic about the “pilot project” and asked McAteer to help form a national strategy to help “restore the public’s faith in the justice system.”
PUBLIC FAITH SHATTERED
That public faith has been shattered many times. One such occasion was the attack on Mississauga real estate agent Wendy Carroll, by a pair of released double killers, John Lyman Kehoe, 51, and Edward Samuel Schwartz, 61.
The duo lured Carroll to a Port Credit home on the pretense of viewing the house. Once inside, they slit her throat and tried to rob her. Carroll, who lost 40% of her blood, survived.
Kehoe, sentenced to life in prison for smothering his two infant daughters in 1972, and Schwartz, who in 1973 murdered his ex-lover and her boyfriend, skipped parole months prior. Nobody had been entrusted to find them.
Kehoe testified at their trial that Carroll’s throat was slit in a struggle and the pair left her for dead because they were on lifetime parole and they didn’t want to return to prison.
“I wasn’t about to hang around with her with a stab wound in her neck,” Kehoe testified. “I was afraid to call 911 because we would have been apprehended.”
Another pointed reminder came in early 1997, when federal parolee Michael Hector executed three Thunder Bay men, two during a drug deal and another during a gas bar robbery.
After his release from federal prison on full parole in April 1995, Hector, 35, was monitored by the John Howard Society in Thunder Bay. A prison psychologist’s warnings to keep Hector on a short string went unheeded and, in the six months prior to the slayings, Hector cancelled his marriage, ditched his fiancee, lost his business, went into debt, passed a string of fraudulent cheques, began drinking and using cocaine and worked as a bouncer in a strip bar.
These tragedies formed the background to Scott’s $160,000 start-up grant for ROPE.
McAteer said he took to heart Scott’s request that he use some of the funding to help develop a national strategy. But within a few months, Scott quit amid allegations of an indiscreet discussion of government business on an airline flight.
Operating in a funding vacuum ever since, the ROPE squad has nabbed 300 AWOL parolees and escapers, among them some of the most dangerous and violent criminals in Canada.
“We are involved with the hard-core guys,” says McAteer. “The robbers, the rapists, the killers. These guys are the shooters, the violent ones.”
Last month, the ROPE squad got more than it bargained for when it arrested John Keith Sergeant, 26, a violent robber who skipped federal parole in March, only one month after he was freed from prison. After numerous break-ins, Sergeant, his friend Lucas Day and two women were arrested June 7 after their rented truck was boxed in by ROPE officers in a high-risk takedown.
Police found a loaded pistol in the car and another loaded gun in one woman’s purse. Day was later charged with first-degree murder in the death of a man at a Toronto nightclub.
The ROPE squad also arrested Stephen Pak, the leader of an Asian crime gang, who went underground after his early release. He, too, was arrested with guns and ammunition.
Last August, a Niagara police officer escaped death when a bullet fired through the window of a van fleeing a St. Catharines bank robbery deflected off his cruiser’s windshield.
Two parolees, Maciej Sitarz, 29, and Ed Roncetti, 35, both of Toronto, were arrested by an OPP tactical team two weeks later while hiding on a boat at a Penetanguishene marina. Police found two bulletproof vests and tens of thousands of dollars in cash.
The ROPE squad also probed Tyronne Conn, a career criminal serving a total 47-year sentence and the first prisoner in 40 years to escape Kingston Penitentiary. Conn was suspected of a gunpoint bank robbery in Colborne, Ont. and thought to be planning others when he was tracked to a Toronto residence. During negotiations Conn shot himself.
CAME BACK FOR MURDER
The ROPE squad was on the trail of wayward parolee Anthony Alfred Williams, 35, last February after he fled to Montreal, but lack of manpower sidelined the chase. Two months later, Williams returned to Toronto, kidnapped his ex-wife and killed her and himself in a car in Toronto.
“I can’t change the past … but I suggest that if we had a stronger unit in place we may have had a chance at taking Williams off the street,” says McAteer.
The squad, now overseen by Insp. Mike Federico and expanded to include two officers from York Regional Police, was recognized at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference with an award for quality in enforcement.
Despite the taint last year when two members were charged with alleged misappropriation of informant money, the squad has gained strength.
Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino has unreserved support for ROPE.
Fantino says he takes a “great deal of pride” in the unit’s successes and considers it an “innovative and resourceful” law enforcement tool.
“I’ve always felt that if we are more strategic and focused in what we do to fight crime then crime would be reduced,” says Fantino, who committed York officers to the squad prior to his Toronto appointment this year.
“We turn out so many people from our prisons and jails who are clearly high-profile in criminal propensity and many of these individuals go off the tracks,” he says.
PLANS FOR 40-MAN FORCE
The plan for an Ontario-wide expansion has been on the drawing board for the past year and has been submitted in draft forms to the federal and provincial governments.
It seeks financing for a 40-man force which would reach across Ontario, split into five teams of six detectives, three teams for the north, west and east of the province, and two for Greater Toronto.
The proposal calls for the squad to be based in Toronto and spearheaded by Toronto Police, not only because both the current project and the future proposal are Toronto initiatives, but also because 416 of 573 offenders who are currently sought for parole breaches are believed to be in the GTA.
But the federal and the provincial governments have not announced support for the initiative or given funding.
Federal Solicitor-General Lawrence MacAulay has had the Toronto proposal in his lap for a year. Toronto officials met with MacAulay and Correctional Services Canada Commissioner Ole Ingstrup, but there has been no response.
Victims’ advocate Sullivan stresses neither Ottawa nor Ontario should rely on the other to deal with the issue and they should both come to the table.
Ontario’s procrastination could be due to an alleged attempt by OPP officials to wrest control of any squad with a province-wide jurisdiction.
Fantino refuses to get into any “Toronto Police Services versus OPP rhetoric.” He said: “Our intent is to do the right thing for the right reasons.
“The greater public good calls for, demands, we do this right. It is our duty to get the appropriate outcome. This is not an us-versus-them kind of deal. We all have to sit down and talk.”
Parole sources say only a small portion of close to 600 AWOL provincial and federal parolees reside in OPP territory.
In addition, Toronto Police have reminded the government that 36 of Ontario’s 41 jails are within the boundaries of municipal police forces.
ROPE squad boss Federico says Toronto would be the logical base for any unit because the city has by far the largest number of failed parolees and escapees, parole offices and is big enough with sufficient transient housing to hide fugitives.
Federico foresees a Toronto-based ROPE-style force which could “give an immediate response across Ontario.” The officers would offer either direct intervention or indirect support to municipal forces.
Federico says he is encouraged by the public statements of Sampson and Solicitor-General David Tsubouchi, and is optimistic the federal government will support the proposal.
The current ROPE team — Federico, McAteer, and detectives Doug Ducharme, Wayne Ward, Greg Higgins and secretary Sandy Stirzaker, continue to catch fugitives and improve their performance through training, some of it with FBI specialists in the U.S.