Toronto Sun

Sunday, September 15, 2002

Break for killer mom never given to father

Woman gets temporary passes denied to her husband

By Thane Burnett
Toronto Sun

BRAMPTON -- The last jailhouse visit Robert Mathison had with his two children they were both dead -- laid out together in a single casket for an unprecedented funeral within the walls of a Canadian penitentiary.

It was Aug. 29, 1994, a week after Mathison's wife, Ingrid, had brutally murdered four-year-old Billy Bob and his two-year-old brother, John, in a Brampton motel room. She killed them by placing plastic bags over their faces and asphyxiating them -- though with toddler John, she started his bitter end by whacking him on the head with a hammer.

Robert, a self-confessed small-time smuggler, was in Warkworth on a number of charges -- the most serious of which was a sexual-assault rap against Ingrid.

Years later, that conviction was overturned by the Ontario Court of Appeal, whose judges saw through Ingrid's tainted testimony against Robert. But, in 1994, it was enough to keep Robert, now 46 years old, locked up.

He couldn't attend an outside funeral under escort or while shackled to a wheelchair he often uses after a car accident two decades ago.

So, in an unsettling compromise, they allowed the funeral to be held inside the Peterborough-area prison. Where no child -- living, let alone dead -- should ever need to go.

"I thought it was the wrong place to have a funeral, but at least I could attend," Robert says from the living room of his home -- a location he wishes to keep hidden from Ingrid. "Not everyone who wanted to go to the funeral went. A lot of people were scared off."

It remains the only time a funeral has been held inside a federal jail for someone who wasn't a prisoner.

It's even sadder to consider that a week before they were murdered, the children were inside Warkworth, alive and visiting with their father.

Now, just six years after a jury convicted Ingrid of second-degree murder -- she was handed a life sentence, which never means that at all -- she is able to do what her husband couldn't do when he wanted to attend an appropriate funeral for his murdered children.

Child killer Ingrid Mathison is being allowed to leave her jail cell to go out into public.

Though you or I have no rights in asking whether a murderer has been approved for the controversial escorted temporary absence program (often just called ETAs), a letter sent to Robert by officials at the Grand Valley Institution, where Ingrid is being housed, reads, in part: "Please be advised that (Ingrid) has been approved for ... escorted temporary absence program.

"These ETAs will be to the Greater Toronto Area, and will be approximately eight hours in duration."

Victims' advocates, particularly in the past few years, have been critical of Correctional Services Canada and its use of ETAs, charging that CSC has pushed prison officials to grant temporary community passes to assist lifers in getting parole.

BOARD'S APPROVAL

Robert has been told Ingrid has been out in the free world at least a half a dozen times, with an escort.

"I couldn't get outside to go to the kids' funeral, though I was innocent of the charge, but the woman who killed them can now get out for the day," says Robert, who wants the power to grant ETAs taken out of the hands of individual prison wardens.

CSC spokesman Joe Beatty, who could not talk about Ingrid or the specifics of any one case -- in Canada, it's important to respect the privacy of those who murder children -- noted convicts serving life must first be approved for ETAs by the parole board.

Though once they get the go-ahead, prison officials can take it upon themselves to let killers out for the day in the community. Non-lifers don't have to get permission from National Parole Board officials, who were not available for comment on this column.

CSC spokesman Beatty said not letting someone out for the funeral of their kids is now largely unheard of.

"It's almost a given. That is, perhaps, a change from 1994," he said.

That development is cold comfort for Robert, who sees little rhyme or reason in decisions by correctional officials -- especially in the way he was treated and the way his murdering wife is now being obliged.

After reading this, there will be those who won't care about Robert, who still lives an uninspiring life. But it's difficult to put into reason why two children had their funeral in a prison, while the woman who killed them can today walk the same streets as you and me.

Copyright © 2002, Canoe, a division of Netgraphe Inc.