When Sue Ashley gives a victim impact statement at parole board hearings just a few feet away from her sister’s killer, her pain and devastation resurfaces and she’s forced to re-live the horror.
“You’re just baring all your raw emotions and you’re digging up the pain that’s been tucked away for so long and so deep,” Ashley said. Her sister, Linda Bright, was only 16 when she was murdered.
Her killer, Donald Armstrong, was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. But he applied in 1997 for early parole under what’s called the Faint Hope Clause in the Criminal Code of Canada. Prisoners could apply for this after serving 15 years but a bill introduced by the former Conservative government was passed in 2011 to abolish the clause.
Ashley’s family prepared a victim impact statement for the 1997 parole board hearing, as well as the many other times that Armstrong appeared before the parole board in an attempt to get released. Ashley, a veteran London Police Service officer, said she felt disappointed because she thought she wouldn’t have to think about Armstrong getting released for at least 25 years.
“There is very little words that could describe the shock of that phone call and having to actually prepare for that kind of hearing,” Ashley said.
The latest parole board hearing in May saw Armstrong granted escorted day passes, a decision that caused Ashley to feel angry.
“This is a very slippery slope because all he has to do is go into the community supervised, stay under the radar, not commit any offences, and he will get parole,” Ashley said.
Ashley said the time between hearings isn’t long enough. It takes so long to prepare for them and even longer to recover after sitting so close to a man who caused so much devastation for so many people.
“It’s hard to look and listen and think, ‘how did this one person cause so much pain?’” Ashley said.