2020-08-12

Disgraced former police chief’s parole troubles victim’s mother, Bridgewater’s mayor

by Keith Corcoran

  • <p>FILE PHOTO</p><p>John Collyer, Bridgewater&#8217;s former police chief, pictured earlier this year at the courthouse.</p>

The mother of the girl sexually exploited by Bridgewater's former police chief questions the message being sent to the public by the ex-officer's full parole after he spent a fraction of his 15-month sentence behind bars.

"What is this telling everyone?" the girl's mother asked in a social media post, reacting to the Parole Board of Canada's recent decision to grant John William Collyer full parole just a few months after his March conviction.

The board indicated Collyer, 56, didn't present an "undue risk to society", among other findings contained in a report released in July.

"Our family was harassed and my daughter called horrible names because so many people thought this never happened only once he was charged did that change," the mother wrote, encouraging others to contact the board with feedback, including parents or guardians of young girls or teens.

Collyer was convicted in October 2019, after a nine-day trial last year, of sexually exploiting a young girl between May and July of 2016 by touching her with his hand for a sexual purpose. Collyer was Bridgewater's top cop between 2011 and 2018 but was off-duty at the time of the incident. During his sentencing in March, court heard that Collyer maintains his innocence, denying any inappropriate physical contact with her. However, he acknowledge some social media communications, sent while under the influence of alcohol, were misguided.

Collyer had no prior criminal record before the conviction. He must register as a sex offender for 20 years.

Bridgewater's mayor weighed in on the parole decision, saying in response to another person's concerns, he was "shocked" about Collyer's early release.

"I can assure you without a shadow of a doubt that Mr. Collyer will not be returning to any role within the Bridgewater Police Service," David Mitchell said in the public online social media post.

"We also have not been made aware by the Parole Board where he will be residing upon his release in August. The contact information for the Atlantic Office of the National Parole Board is Communications-atl@pbc-clcc.gc.ca if you wanted to express concern or ask further questions of those who made this decision. I too have a young daughter and the message this sends to offenders and victims is very concerning to me."

Collyer was placed on administrative leave by the town in August 2016 after it went public that the independent police oversight agency - the Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) - was investigating the officer's actions. He was suspended in May 2017 when word came that SIRT laid charges.

He had been a member of the Bridgewater's police force between 1990 and 2018. He rose to the rank of deputy chief in 2009 before becoming chief.

The board's decision is garnering reaction across the country.

Alix Born, of British Columbia, contacted LighthouseNOW after being troubled with both wording used by the board in its decision and Collyer's release.

"What kind of message does this send to the young girls of Canada when a man that sexually assaults them spends only five months in jail?" Born asked, rhetorically. "It tells them their bodies, their well-being and their lives have less value than property."

Born went on to call on the board to "take action to restore the faith of Canadians that you are sufficiently qualified and committed to the protection of our children."

For privacy reasons, the board couldn't comment on Collyer's matter, specifically.

"By law, most offenders will become eligible for parole at some point during their sentence, however eligibility does not mean parole will be granted. Parole is never guaranteed, and public safety is always the primary consideration in all parole decisions," said Lynne O'Brien, a board spokeswoman for the Atlantic region.

"The purpose of parole is to prepare the offender to reintegrate into society as law-abiding citizen before they reach the end of their sentence. Parole does this through a gradual, controlled, and supervised release into the community. A gradual, structured and supervised release of offenders is the best way to protect the public, rather than releasing offenders with no supervision or support at the end of their sentence."

Board members conduct a risk-assessment in all cases and determine if risk can be safely managed in the community, O'Brien added.

"While on parole, offenders are required to follow a number of standard conditions established in law ... should an offender fail to follow any of these conditions, their parole can be revoked" and they're back in custody, she said.

Collyer's lawyer, David Bright, declined to comment for this story. "My practice has always been not to discuss my clients with the media," Bright told LighthouseNOW.

Collyer said he had "no comment" when reached by LighthouseNOW.

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