Although it didn’t get nearly as much attention as other stranger attacks, earlier this month Edmonton was host to what is easily Canada’s worst random stabbing yet.
Not long after class let out at Crawford Plains School on May 5, a mother and child were set upon and attacked by an erratic man roaming the grounds with a knife.
Eleven-year-old Sara Miller likely saw her mother die: Although 35-year-old Carolann Robillard died at the scene, her daughter was still showing vital signs when first responders arrived at the scene – but would die several hours later in hospital.
Both mother and child would later be buried in the same casket.
Witness reports suggest that the attacker — who lived just 400 metres away — intended to go on a stabbing spree within the school itself. When he was unable to gain access to the building by what police called the “heroic” actions of a teacher, he seemed to instead turn his aggression on the nearest people he could find.
The alleged attacker is dead: He died in hospital after being shot in an altercation with police soon after the stabbing.
But even amid a nationwide crisis of violent offenders being set free despite their high likelihood to hurt innocent people, this case represents a particularly egregious failure of the system to protect the public from an obvious threat to their safety.
Muorater Mashar, 33, had been racking up a record of repeat violent crimes for at least the last 14 years. He also had a troubled record as a teenager; court documents show he was suspended at least twice from high school for violence – although any crimes committed during that time would not be public record under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
At the time of the May 5 attack on Miller and Robillard, Mashar conceivably still could have been in jail on one of several earlier convictions. As per the Criminal Code, it takes just one conviction of aggravated assault to be imprisoned for up to 14 years – but despite Mashar getting a litany of such convictions, he often escaped with sentences of only a few months.
Global News’ Edmonton bureau performed one of the most thorough checks of Mashar’s criminal history, and even managed to interview some of his victims.
They found that his longest prison sentence was for just four years, which he got for almost killing someone at a Winnipeg bus stop in 2014. Reportedly, Mashar had gotten into an argument with a fellow bus rider and responded by puncturing the man’s aorta and spinal cord with a series of stab wounds.
But Mashar got parole despite multiple violent incidents in prison and violations of his release conditions. "You are noted to be unpredictable and are somewhat paranoid and are manipulative with staff," reads a Parole Board of Canada decision from 2018 authorizing his release, and obtained by CBC Edmonton.
And yet, just two years later when Mashar attacked an Edmonton transit bus with a can of bear spray, he only got 80 days in jail.
In the months before allegedly attacking Miller and Robillard, Mashar had even begun demonstrating a penchant to assault children for no reason. In April, 2022 he tackled a random 12-year-old boy on the Edmonton LRT, repeatedly punching the child in the back until he was restrained by bystanders.
The boy’s mother, Aimee Guilbault, spoke to Global News and explained her son’s shock at finding out that his attacker had been out of prison only a couple months after his February 2023 conviction.
“He didn’t believe it at first, when I told him. He was like: ‘That guy shouldn’t be out yet.’ I said ‘I know,’” she said.
Even setting aside the possibility that Mashar still could have been in jail on May 5, there’s no reason he also couldn’t have been in pre-trial detention awaiting yet another charge stemming from a seemingly random assault.
In the first days after the attack, Edmonton Police Chief Dale McFee noted that his officers had only recently finished bringing Mashar in on an assault charge relating to an alleged attack with a scooter.
“He was brought before a judge and released with conditions and the charges were later stayed,” McFee told reporters. And according to Mashar’s records, it was not the first time he’d gotten violent assault charges ignored or thrown out altogether. During a brief stay in the Edmonton Remand Centre after the assault on the 12-year-old, Mashar reportedly received no consequences for attacking another inmate with feces.
As McFee said after the May 5 attack, “there were multiple intervention points, multiple opportunities to hold the suspect accountable and provide him the professional support required to manage his behaviour. But the system once again failed.”
Particularly in the last two years, Canada has witnessed an escalating crisis of “stranger attacks”; random and sometimes fatal assaults committed without provocation, and sometimes in broad daylight. In almost all cases, the alleged perpetrator is on parole, on bail, or both.
In March, 16-year-old Gabriel Magalhaes was stabbed to death without provocation at a Toronto subway station. His alleged attacker Jordan O’Brien-Tobin, had accumulated dozens of progressively more violent charges since turning 19 just three years prior, and is alleged to have killed Magalhaes only weeks after receiving parole for an alleged sexual assault.