Learning lessons from Kienan’s abduction

First, cheers and gratitude for the safe return of three-year-old Kienan Hebert, a remarkable happy ending to a nightmarish story.

First, cheers and gratitude for the safe return of three-year-old Kienan Hebert, a  remarkable happy ending to a nightmarish story.

The fact that stranger abductions are extraordinarily rare doesn’t lessen the heart-stopping impact of his abduction.

That celebration and the prosecution of the now-arrested suspect, Randall Hopley, will take some time.

But then we need answers.

Kienan’s father, Paul Hebert, has modelled calm dignity throughout the ordeal. He has forgiven Hopley, he says, citing his own Christian faith and its requirement for forgiveness.

But on Monday, he set out his frustration with the justice system. Hebert didn’t offer an emotional response — no demands that such people be locked up forever, for example.

He wanted to know why Hopley didn’t get help that changes his behaviour despite his repeated contacts with the police and courts that stretched back almost to the 46-year-old man’s own childhood.

They are good questions. And the implications go far beyond this case.

Hopley is, based on media reports, an archetype. Our courts are full of people like him; they occupy a large amount of police officers’ time. They lead a life of petty crime, with occasional forays into something more serious.

Hopley fits the profile. He is neither smart nor educated; one of his defence lawyers told the court he was mentally handicapped. Hopley’s father died in a mine accident when he was about Kienan’s age. His stepfather, Doug Fink, said  was out of control as a child, running away and constantly in trouble. “I didn’t want nothing to do with him, he’d only stay so long and he couldn’t help himself, he’d be in trouble again,” Fink said.

Dale Fedoruk, who lived in Sparwood, where Hopley has lived for about 16 years, said he was “a dirty, creepy guy.”

The police certainly did. Hopley was a thief, breaking into businesses in an industrial park, stealing from cars. He wasn’t particularly good at it, and would sometimes confess to police when caught. Hopley had kept police busy since moving to Sparwood in 1995, an officer told a judge in 2003.

He pleaded guilty to stealing $795 from a business in that case, and got four months of house arrest, a year’s probation and an order to repay the money. He was to abstain from drugs and alcohol as well.

Those kinds of orders are common too. But Hopley, like many offenders, had a poor record in actually following the orders, frequently ending up back in court for breaches of various orders.

These people, often with addictions as well, are the frequent flyers in the criminal justice system. And the system does a poor job of dealing with them, undermining the sense of security in communities.

There were more serious charges as well. Hopley was sentenced to two years for a sex assault in the 1980s and faced charges — later dropped — of attempting to abduct a boy in 2007. Those should have been warnings, Paul Hebert says.

“The judges and the system failed us,” he said. “Hopley needs help and the system didn’t give him the help he needed and because of that, we have been affected. Our rights have been taken away and our family got hurt.”

The justice system – judges, prosecutors, police – are notoriously reluctant to accept scrutiny.

But it’s reasonable to make an effort to look at Hopley’s life of involvement with the courts and police and see if Hebert is right in believing that a better job cold have been done in protecting the public.

A Crown prosecutor sought a psychiatric examination for Hopley before sentencing in 2008, but the defence objected and the court didn’t order one. Perhaps that might have been useful.

And in fact, the issues might have less to do with the court system than with the lack of early childhood intervention to deal with people before they become criminals.

There’s a lot to learn from this case.

But first, there’s a lot to be thankful for.

Footnote: The RCMP also needs to provide answers, especially about the way in which Kienan was dropped off at his families’ empty home at 3 a.m., with police apparently unaware that someone had entered the crime scene. Police have said they “facilitated” the return, but need to explain what arrangements, if any, they made and how they managed the risk to Kienan and others.