Kelly Ellard, convicted of killing 14-year-old Reena Virk in Victoria two decades ago, has been granted conditional day parole.
Ellard, who was 15 at the time of the death, is currently serving a life sentence for her role in the second-degree murder of Virk under the Craigflower Bridge in 1997.
She appeared before a parole board Thursday to plead for her freedom after being granted temporary escorted absences in February.
The parole board granted her day parole on the condition that she must proceed directly into a residential substance abuse treatment program.
If she successfully completes the program, she will move to a halfway house where she will be monitored and subject to conditions including reporting to a parole officer.
Court heard during Ellard's trial that she and several other teens swarmed Virk, beating her, before she and Warren Glowatski followed her and drowned her in Victoria's Gorge Waterway.
During Thursday's hearing, Ellard again apologized for her actions – but also adamantly denied that she had held Virk's head underwater after viciously beating her.
She did say she remembered dragging Virk into the water, saying she wanted to "get rid of her" in the moment.
"There's nothing particular about Reena that I didn't like or others didn't like. There's nothing she could've possibly said or done to deserve such treatment," she told the board. "She did not deserve it. It was not about her, it could've been anyone. She should have been home with her family who loved her, not out with us that night, and I'm very sorry."
Ellard, now 35, gave birth to a boy while serving her sentence after her current boyfriend, who has also served time in prison, made conjugal visits.
She said she hopes to co-parent the child with the father but said her focus is on the well-being of her child.
During the hearing Ellard also mentioned that she feels anxiety when out in the community on temporary escorted absences, saying "If someone looks at me, I think it's like there's a sign flashing above me that says I'm a monster."
Reena's father, Manjit Virk, said he was saddened to hear the decision. Virk's parents have long maintained that Ellard shouldn't be free until she admits responsibility for holding Virk's head underwater.
"Perhaps they believe that she can take responsibility in a serious way and with lots of conditions, she might do good, and I agree with that," he said. "She should be given a chance for six months to see how she does it. Now she's 35 years old and she has a baby so hopefully the responsibility factor will be greater in her life."
A Victoria lawyer said that Ellard having a baby in custody as well as 40 temporary escorted absences into the community likely contributed to Thursday's decision.
"They would look carefully at how somebody behaved while out of the institution on those escorted absences," said Michael Mulligan. "The child that she's had while also, in my judgment, be a particularly important and powerful incentive to comply with conditions and behave herself."
Ellard will have her parole reviewed in six months and one of her conditions is to have no contact with the Virks.
But the family says in the 20 years since Reena's death, they have never received a direct apology.
"That would be nice," said Manjit Virk. "That would relieve her guilt, and it will also give us some comfort level that she has owned up to her responsibility, and she has taken responsibility for her actions and wants to mend her ways and be a productive citizen."
Virk's family and about 200 others recently gathered at the Craigflower Schoolhouse to mark the sombre 20th anniversary of her death.
With files from the Canadian Press.
Kelly Ellard adamant in telling parole board she didn't hold Reena Virk's head under water when the 14 year old was killed. Still granted day parole despite characterized as minimizing her role in crime. @CTVNewsVI— Robert Buffam (@CTVNewsRob) November 30, 2017
Parole board grants Kelly a Ellard day parole, but expresses concerns about her relationship with her son's father, also a convicted criminal @CTVNewsVI— Robert Buffam (@CTVNewsRob) November 30, 2017