Some years ago, while it was not delivered on the occasion of Canada
Day, then- prime minister Jean Chretien gave his most oft-quoted speech
about this great land of ours -- about how Canada was "the best country
in the world in which to live (and) where young people have a chance to
grow and be the best at whatever they want to do."
Andy Moffitt exemplified one of those young people.
The young man from Brockville was a computer prodigy, and one of the
top students in the engineering program at the University of Ottawa.
In 2003, he did his parents proud by being awarded the Governor General's Award for Bravery.
Chretien's speech on the potential of young people in Canada was
delivered as his reply to the Speech from the Throne in October 1999.
By this time, however, Andy Moffitt had already been in his grave for almost a year.
On Canada Day 2003, during the year the bravery award to Andy Moffitt
was posthumously bestowed, during the year Chretien marked his 10th
anniversary of his years at 24 Sussex Dr., the PM took excerpts of that
old speech and rolled it out again to the flag wavers gathered at
Parliament Hill to celebrate this country's birthday.
'TALKING ABOUT ANDY'
Andy Moffitt's mother never forgot that speech.
"I remember listening, and then thinking to myself that he was talking about Andy," Paulette Moffitt says.
"But my Andy was never given the chance to fulfil his dream, or to be the best at whatever he set out to do.
"Instead, he was murdered."
In six weeks, Andy Moffitt's killer will be released from prison, his statutory release date being Aug. 16.
A year ago, at a hearing that I attended at Bath Penitentiary west of
Kingston, Henry Danninger's bid for early release from his five-year
manslaughter conviction was denied by the National Parole Board.
Danninger had done nothing to earn his
release. Becoming a skinhead in appearance, losing 80 lbs., and
quitting smoking are not exactly qualifiers for get-out-of-jail cards.
In August, however, doing nothing will no
longer matter since the law demands the release of prisoners after
two-thirds of their sentences has been served.
What Henry Danninger did on the eve of
Christmas Eve 1998, was snuff out a life with so much obvious potential
that any prime minister bragging about this country's young people
could have used him as a poster boy.
Henry Danninger, however, was the flip side of that analogy, yet he is the one with a life still to live.
Armed with what he called a "bad-ass knife" -- which begs the question
why the House of Commons is still balking at minimum sentences for the
criminal use of a knife -- Henry Danninger, now 33, went to an Ottawa
bar to confront a former roommate over scooping his cache of drugs, and
ended up running that knife through Andy Moffitt's heart.
It was Moffitt's reward for being an
innocent peacemaker. Instead of going home after celebrating the end of
exams, he going home at the age of 23 to a grave at St. Francis Xavier
Cemetery in Brockville.
It is --
ironically, and coincidentally -- Henry Danninger's hometown too, a
place where it is impossible to simply blend into the crowd because, as
I witnessed growing up there when the population was only 5,000 less,
it is a town where a low profile is an impossible to maintain when
there is any notoriety behind the name.
Henry Danninger, therefore, will no doubt
be the talk of the town, and his movements no secret, thereby making it
no easier for the Moffitts to forget the unforgettable when their son's
killer is again walking main street.
With Danninger's impending release date on
the horizon, Paulette Moffitt wrote a letter to Keith Coulter,
commissioner of Corrections Canada, begging him to do whatever he could
to stop Danninger's statutory release -- citing a section of the
Corrections and Conditional Release Act that allows him to send a case
directly to the chair of the parole board for additional review,
particularly since one of the reasons Danninger's parole was denied
last year was because he was deemed a high risk to reoffend.
Coulter never replied, but his deputy commissioner, Nancy Stableforth, did.
And, in that letter, Stableforth indicated that it was virtually a
foregone conclusion that Danninger will, indeed, be released next month
because, despite what the parole board thought a year ago, there now
existed "no reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Danninger is likely
to commit an offence causing serious harm or death to another person, a
sexual offence involving a child, or a serious drug offence prior to
the expiration of his sentence."
Danninger's release, therefore, is all but a done deal.
If that turns out to be the case, what Paulette Moffitt wants is a parole restriction that keeps him out of Brockville.
And who could blame her?
While Stableforth indicated she would forward Paulette Moffitt's concerns to the parole board, it will likely carry no weight.
Even while denying Danninger his parole last summer, the tribunal made
it clear that he was a lucky man for one reason and one reason alone.
"You are fortunate to have a strong,
unconditional support from your family who reside in Brockville," the
NPB decision sheet reads. "Their pro-social influence will be important
in your eventual transition back to society."
In other words, come August, Brockville's
population will undoubtedly be rising by one -- Henry Danninger's
rights prevailing over a mother's whose son he killed, and whose future
in this country would have been fodder for any prime minister's speech
on any given Canada Day.