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The Big Story: Does Tori Stafford's killer belong in a healing lodge?

Victoria (Tori) Stafford's mother Tara McDonald and partner James Gorris carry a banner followed by father Rodney Stafford, family and supporters walking in the Woodstock Victoria Day parade, Monday, May 18, 2009 It has been nearly six weeks since Tori mysteriously disappeared after leaving her school with an unknown woman on April 8th. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley

Editor’s note: This article contains disturbing content

The three-month-long search for nine-year-old Tori Stafford’s body in 2009 was the largest in Ontario history. When it was over, the crimes committed against the girl and the investigation and trial that followed crushed her community of Woodstock, Ontario.

Now one of her killers, Terri-Lynn McClintic, who was convicted of first-degree murder in Tori’s death, has been transferred from a prison to a minimum security healing lodge with independent living, spiritual and cultural training.

How was this decision made? Why did the public find out about the move months after the fact? What happens now that the outrage over this has risen to the highest level of Canadian government? And, in the big picture, if the end goal of our correctional system is rehabilitation, does that only apply to some prisoners? Are McClintic’s crimes too horrific to atone for?

Randy Richmond, a London Free Press reporter who covered Tori’s abduction and murder in 2009 and has stayed with her story for the past decade, joined The Big Story Podcast to take us inside the decision and the fallout that is spreading quickly.

“In Woodstock, it’s not an exaggeration to say that community still hurts deeply from what happened.”

McClintic is the ex-girlfriend of Michael Rafferty. On April 8, 2009, McClintic lured Stafford into Rafferty’s car, as the girl was walking home from school.

“Terri-Lynn McClintic approached her and said, ‘I have a puppy in the car. Come on in and see it,'” said Richmond. “She got Tori to the car, they pulled her in, and went to a remote farm area.”

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“Michael Rafferty tortured, raped, and killed Tori Stafford. Terri-Lynn McClintic tried to take the blame for the actual killing, but ultimately it was ruled although she was there and guilty of first-degree murder, he did the actual killing.”

McClintic was sent to a prison for women in Kitchener. A couple of years later, she was convicted of assaulting a fellow inmate.

“It was a pretty brutal and savage attack,” said Richmond. “She lured this inmate in to talking to her. They have a peer-to-peer mentor program. She asked this inmate to come and talk to her in private… she put a pretty savage beating on her.”

Richmond said not much was heard about McClintic until it came out that she had been transferred to an Indigenous healing lodge in Saskatchewan.

“Because of the nature of the crime — it was well-covered, it was a horrible incident — and Terri-Lynn McClintic, in her testimony at Rafferty’s trial, you can just see the violence in her nature and the horrible upbringing she had. She became quite a figure in Canada for her evil and violence.”

He said at a healing lodge, people use Indigenous principles to come to terms with what they have done. “To take a more spiritual and cultural journey.”

“For Indigenous people, it’s quite a different way of dealing with their background, their past, their crimes than traditional jails. Traditional jails in prisons are disproportionately filled with Indigenous people. This is a different way of approaching your rehabilitation. It’s strongly supported in the Indigenous community.”

Richmond added there is no indication McClintic is Indigenous. “It turns out… You don’t have to be… You could get into an Indigenous healing lodge or healing program by asking for it, and acknowledging and agreeing to abide and follow their teachings.”