The family of a New Brunswick Mi’kmaw teen who was raped and murdered by her cousin in 2009 wants tougher laws in Canada for sex offenders.
“He shouldn’t have the opportunity for parole,” Pam Fillier, the mother of slain teen Hilary Bonnell, told the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls Tuesday.
“I think it’s unfair that he’s not on the dangerous offender list. It’s not fair,” she said while wiping away tears.
“My little girl can’t come home. He shouldn’t be allowed to ever go home,” Mrs. Fillier added, crying.
Mrs. Fillier is one of 30 family members and survivors from the maritime provinces registered to share their stories to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls during two days of community hearings in Moncton, N.B. this week. It’s the second time the national inquiry has held community hearings in the Atlantic region.
The national inquiry held three days of hearings in Membertou First Nation, N.S. in October 2017.
The hearings got underway on Tuesday morning with an opening ceremony followed by a Knowledge Keepers panel. Panelists included Miigama’agan and Imelda Perley from New Brunswick and Judy Clark from Prince Edward Island.
Mrs. Fillier and her husband, Fred, were the only family members on Tuesday to publicly testify before Michéle Audette, the only inquiry commissioner attending the Moncton hearings.
Hilary Bonnell was missing for two months
Hilary Bonnell, 16, was reported missing on Sept. 5, 2009 when her mother was unable to reacher her on her cell so they could go shopping for school clothes. After two months of searching for Hilary, her body was found buried in woods near Tabusintac, N.B., a 15 minute drive from Esgenoopetitij First Nation.
Curtis Bonnell, Hilary’s first cousin, was arrested and charged with unlawful confinement, sexual assault and first degree murder. He was the one who eventually led police to where he buried Bonnell’s body.
In Nov. 2012, a jury found Bonnell, 37, guilty of killing his cousin and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance for parole for 25 years. In July 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada refused Bonnell’s request to appeal the guilty verdict.
Mrs. Fillier explained to the inquiry that she reported Hilary missing to the RCMP when she was unable to locate her on Sept. 5, 2009. However, she said they didn’t immediately begin to search for Hilary.
“I thought if I told them I can’t find my daughter that they would look for her but they didn’t,” Mrs. Fillier said.
Instead, community members from Esgenoopetitj First Nation, Burnt Church and Neguac came together to help her find Hilary, she explained.
“I’ll always be grateful to my community for doing that. They searched for her and still the police didn’t search,” Mrs. Fillier said.
She said the RCMP only began to search for Hilary after she contacted news media outlets.
Fred Fillier, Hilary’s step-father, described how the family struggled emotionally and financially in the months and years leading up to Curtis Bonnell’s first degree murder trial in Miramichi, N.B. in the fall of 2012.
Mr. Fillier said he had to sell his home because he was unable to work due to stress and grief.
He also explained that his children were unable to seek help through victim services because they weren’t biological siblings to Hilary.
“That hurt my heart so much that I gave up on victim services,” Mr. Fillier said.
He said there needs to be more support offered to the victim’s family members during the court process.
“When they’re spending endless hours and days in a courtroom, they need to be nurtured, they need to be fed and they need a place to rest during the trial,” Mr. Fillier said.
“That caused a lot of stress for us,” he added.
Mrs. Fillier said if Bonnell applies for parole, she intends to attend the parole hearing.
“I plan on being there. I plan on saying my peace. If I have to get down on my knees and beg them not to let him out, I will,” Mrs. Fillier explained.
“If they let him out, shame on them,” she said.
“We need tougher laws against rapists and pedophiles and if you kill someone, you shouldn’t have that chance to come out,” Mrs. Fillier said.
“People are losing their lives and people are getting away with murder,” she added.
The hearings continue on Wednesday.