A federal convict who escaped from minimum-security Beaver Creek penitentiary, near Gravenhurst, Ontario, and then led police in the Toronto area on a wild chase, is a savage domestic abuser who appears to aspire to kill women, Cancrime research shows. Robert John Saunders, 57, was recaptured today after a 200-kilometre chase that ended in a crash.
Saunders was sent to prison for 15 years the last time he was in court. He was living in British Columbia in 2000 when he attacked an ex-girlfriend, Delisa Lee, at the front door of her Qualicum Beach home with a machete. At the time, Saunders was facing domestic abuse charges for a previous attack on her. Saunders was at Lee’s front door between 2:30 a.m. and 3 a.m., shouting fire. The building was ablaze because Saunders torched it with lighter fluid. When she appeared, he slashed her three times, choked her unconscious and left her to die in the fire. She was rescued by firefighters and survived. Saunders tried to commit suicide when he was caught by police. He jumped from a fifth-floor apartment. At his trial, Saunders tried to lie his way out of the conviction, or what the judge described as his attempt to “conjure a fabricated narration of events.” He also characterized Saunders explanations – he testified in his own defence – as “absurd,” “ridiculous” and “replete with falsehoods.” (Read the entire judge’s decision for yourself.) Saunders was damned, in part, by a will he had written out before the attack. In it, Saunders described Lee as “spiteful” and wrote that: “She needs the fix.” The judge concluded that signaled his intention to kill her.
In 1986 in Lindsay, Ontario, Saunders was sentenced to four years in prison for a violent attack on another ex-partner. He was convicted of arson, break-and-enter, assault and disguising himself with intent to commit an offence. Saunders also was in a relatively elite club of violent criminals. He was declared a long-term offender after his conviction in 2000. It meant he’d be under supervision for a decade after his release from prison. The long-term offender label is meant for persistently violent bad guys who need close monitoring. It’s one step away from the dangerous offender designation, Canada’s toughest sentence, which can mean a lifetime behind bars.
Beaver Creek is a minimum-security prison with no fences or armed guards. Like all of the minimum-security pens, it operates on a virtual honour system. Convicts can simply walk away any time they choose. Saunders decided to drive away. Corrections Canada offers the same pre-formatted answer every time a violent con skips from minimum security. The service notes inmates are only placed at minimum security if they are considered to have a low likelihood of escape and a low threat to public safety should they bolt. In a study, Corrections researchers noted that “the inmates confined to them are not considered a serious risk for potential escape.”
There will be an internal investigation, of course, but don’t expect to find out much from it. Under the image-conscious Conservative government in Ottawa, these reports are heavily censored before they’re released publicly.