Hunt goes on for fugitive convict Riel

Killer slipped away from minimum-security unit of federal prison in Mission this summer

Norman Riel

Norman Riel

By Justin Beddall

A convicted killer who escaped from a minimum-security unit at a  federal prison in Mission in late August remains on the run.

Norman Gilbert Riel slipped away from Mission Institution on Aug. 24 and was last seen getting into a waiting white Chevy Suburban.

Police launched an intensive manhunt after correctional staff noticed Riel was unaccounted for but the prisoner managed to evade capture.

More than two months later, his whereabouts remains a mystery.

Mission RCMP Sgt. Shaun Wright said recently in an email that police have received a few tips about the fugitive convict since the escape but “none have resulted in his being located and apprehended.”

Riel was serving a life sentence for the second-degree murder of a Vancouver man who was fatally shot in the back of the head inside his East Vancouver apartment after four weapon-brandishing masked intruders — one of them Riel —  stormed his apartment in 1994.

Riel has a lengthy criminal record that includes robbery and firearms offences in Vancouver and Edmonton, according to police.

In the past, he’s fled to the United States to avoid apprehension.

After the murder of the Vancouver man, police arrested Riel in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 1998.

In 2009, Riel was released on day parole and then he disappeared in October 2010.

His whereabouts remained unknown until police arrested him for a second time in Las Vegas in March 2011.

Two months prior to his August escape from Mission Institution, Riel, 41, was denied day parole.

In a June 12, 2014, Parole Board of Canada pre-release decision sheet obtained by The Record, it was noted:  “Also concerning is your prior poor conditional release history which includes you going Unlawfully at Large (UAL) and fleeing to the United States while on day parole. You are assessed as a high risk for violent and general reoffending with a recommendation that any release be highly structured and gradual.”

The decision also noted: “Your criminal history is described as extensive and escalating in severity. It consists of weapons, uttering threats, and living off the avails of prostitution offences. File information indicates your offending crosses international boundaries. You have deeply entrenched criminal values.”

Because the escape happened in its jurisdiction, Mission RCMP is the lead agency in the hunt for Riel.

Sgt. Wright says RCMP resources devoted to recapturing Riel are based upon “other demands, viability and time sensitive nature of tips and the viable avenues of investigation utilized.”

After the escape, RCMP alerted police departments across the province, as well as other agencies such as Canada Border Services Agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Relatives and known associates of Riel were also contacted.

A Los Angles-based RCMP liaison was notified after Riel’s escape and has been “engaged in the investigation, liaising with U.S. officials as appropriate,” Wright noted.

The Abbotsford Police Department wasn’t involved in the initial manhunt for Riel, but they have “been part of the information sharing about the individual and the incident,” said Const. Ian MacDonald in an email.

After Riel’s Aug. 24 escape, Correctional Services Canada (CSC) issued a news release that stated: “CSC will investigate the circumstances of this incident and is working with the police to locate the offender as quickly as possible.”

In an email, CSC spokesman Jean-Paul Lorieau said the federal agency isn’t able to comment on whether any changes had been made at the institution as a result of Riel’s daytime escape.

“The information you requested is subject to Privacy and Access to Information legislation,” said Lorieau.

Lorieau added: “Ensuring the safety and security of the public remains the highest priority in the operations of the federal correctional system.”

“CSC is working closely and co-operatively with the RCMP through information sharing.”

Two months prior to Riel’s escape, there was another escape from the minimum security unit at Mission Institution, but the inmate was recaptured at 10 p.m. on the same day.

NDP justice critic Mike Farnworth feels the public deserves to know more about the escape of a convicted killer.

“The public needs to be assured that steps to ensure that this will not happen again have been taken and every effort continues to catch this person and put them behind bars where they belong,” he said.

“I think it’s really frustrating that an event like this could happen. He’s just disappeared. This criminal – he’s a violent criminal – is now still on the loose,” added the Port Coquitlam MLA. “He’s not been caught and at the same time we don’t know exactly what happened in terms of how the escape managed to take place, nor do we know if measures have been taken to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. I think the public deserve to know answers.”

Riel stands 5’8” and weighs 210 pounds. He has a medium complexion, brown eyes, long brown hair and a panther tattoo on his shoulder.

If you see Riel, don’t approach him. Police ask anyone with information about Riel to call Mission RCMP at 604-826-7161 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477. A cash reward of $2000 is being offer for any information leading to his arrest.