Tories defend focus on transfer of offender to healing lodge

Conservatives raise the brutal details of Tori Stafford’s killing daily in the House of Commons

Anyone who has been paying attention to the Conservative opposition knows what issue is at the fore — the controversial transfer of convicted murderer Terri-Lynne McClintic from a medium-security prison to an Indigenous healing lodge.

The Tories have been relentless in the House of Commons, raising the brutal details of Tori Stafford’s killing daily, and calling on the Liberals to reverse her controversial transfer.

The Liberals have denounced the barrage as disgraceful, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling the Conservatives “ambulance-chasing politicians” in a testy exchange Wednesday aimed at Conservative MP Lisa Raitt, a lawyer by trade.

RELATED: Philpott defends Indigenous healing lodges amid controversy over Stafford killer

But Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives are unapologetic, saying the failure to keep McClintic locked behind bars resonates with Canadians. In addition to peppering the government with questions, the Opposition forced the Liberals to vote on a motion Wednesday calling for the government to condemn McClintic’s transfer and reverse it.

The motion was ultimately voted down, but Conservative strategists say raising the Stafford case in the House time after time is part of a broader strategy to emphasize injustices.

McClintic was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of the first-degree murder of Victoria (Tori) Stafford. McClintic’s boyfriend, Michael Rafferty, repeatedly raped her before the eight-year-old was ultimately killed with a claw hammer to the head.

McClintic has been transferred to Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge in Saskatchewan, which is managed by the Correctional Service of Canada and is listed as a medium-security institution for women.

However, the Conservatives say healing lodges are meant for transition, not for people who should be locked away.

Conservative MP Candice Bergen, who sponsored the motion, said the Liberal attitude toward criminals is becoming evident.

She pointed to another case her party has raised repeatedly, that of Christopher Garnier, convicted of second-degree murder and interfering with a dead body in the death of 36-year-old Catherine Campbell, an off-duty police officer.

It recently became public that Veterans Affairs Canada was covering the cost of Garnier’s post-traumatic stress treatment because his father was a veteran who has also been diagnosed with PTSD.

Bergen argues that in both instances, the government should say, “this is wrong, we’re going to stop it.”

But Trudeau stood by his comments, telling reporters outside the Commons that the Conservatives “yet again” brought up in detail the tragic case of Stafford.

“The Conservatives are terribly upset that I referred to them as practising ambulance-chasing politics but if they’re upset it’s probably because it stings a bit.”

Trudeau’s remarks came less than 24 hours after vowing at a Liberal fundraiser he would not engage in personal attacks against opponents.

But this particular issue has struck a chord on both sides of the aisle.

RELATED: Correction head OK with transfer of Tori Stafford’s killer to healing lodge

Bergen said Canadians remember Stafford’s tragic death, calling it one of the most horrific murders in the country’s history. The Liberals do not understand the outrage Canadians feel, she added.

Tim Powers, a conservative strategist and vice-chairman of Summa Strategies, said the Tories are trying to connect to voters’ raw emotions and that the party aims to score political points but also change policy.

“You’re seeing people … turn a little bit against elites or the established order and if the government comes across as talking about a system that works and it’s an established system, they can make the government look a little bit out of touch.”

Janice Dickson, The Canadian Press

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