The former warden of Kingston Penitentiary once told me: “We have an obligation in law to keep people, however odious their crime and their background, alive because there is no other alternative. The life sentence of the court is not a sentence of execution by bad luck or by chance or by negligence.” Tom Epp’s eloquent prison-boss wisdom, offered in 1995, was an explanation of how Canada’s federal prison system deals with the most despicable characters entrusted to its care. He wasn’t talking specifically about Saul David Betesh, but his words are perfectly applicable to the sexual sadist, one of Canada’s most notorious child killers and a notorious complainer in prison (read one of his complaints, after the jump).
I thought about Betesh, and vile offenders like him, when I came across this story recently about Greg McMaster, an imprisoned cop-killing multiple murderer who won a lawsuit against Corrections Canada because he wasn’t given special running shoes [full court decision]. To the average citizen, the story must seem outrageous and impossible to fathom. But prisoners don’t lose all of their basic rights when we dispatch them to penitentiary: We send them to prison as punishment, not for punishment. Which means the staff who work in our prisons must find a way to treat civilly some of society’s most reprehensible characters. They deserve credit for performing a difficult and virtually thankless task. It’s more difficult because some of those “odious” inmates spend a good portion of their free time concocting complaints and whining about their treatment.
Child killer Betesh is one of those. Sentenced in 1978 to life in prison for the sexual torture and murder of 12-year-old Toronto shoeshine boy Emmanuel Jaques, Betesh has been a lumbering pest in prison (he has typically tipped the scales at 230 to 240 pounds). He repeatedly launched hunger strikes to press his demands, and often with a flourish of publicity that came from contacting the media directly. In 2002, he mailed me his latest hunger strike manifesto that included his demand that he and a same-sex prison partner be transferred together to another penitentiary.
Betesh also complained about his treatment at maximum-security Kingston Penitentiary. Betesh wasn’t transferred and remains behind bars in Kingston. At his trial more than 30 years ago, a psychiatrist said he was a great danger to society, a man who would likely commit other sexual sadistic acts when released from prison. It’s unlikely that any parole board member wants to be accountable for Betesh’s release. It is likely he’ll die in prison.
Betesh, who is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder, with no chance of parole for 25 years, was eligible to seek full parole on Aug. 1, 2002, but he waived his right to a hearing, perhaps because he knows there’s still little chance he’s getting out. (I was fortunate that year to land an interview with Bob McLean, a retired Toronto police detective who put Betesh behind bars.) Betesh is entitled to a hearing every two years, but he waived that right again in 2004, 2006 and 2008. Betesh’s conviction, along with two other men, Robert Kribs and Josef Woods, set off a sweeping crackdown on Toronto’s Yonge Street sin strip of body rub parlours and porn houses. Kribs was denied parole in 2002. Woods died behind bars in 2003.
The document Betesh sent me in 2002 that contains his demand to be sent to another prison with his same-sex partner:
In the document above, you can see that Betesh self-censored the name of his partner. He cut small rectangles out of the paper to remove the name and wrote in the margin, in red pen: “Name not for publication.”