By Phinjo Gombu 
Toronto Star Staff Reporter

The man who shot dead a Toronto police officer after a Danforth Ave. bank robbery in 1973 has served his 25-year life sentence and is now on day parole from a Quebec penitentiary. 

René Vaillancourt, who killed Constable Leslie Maitland, is one of just three men to have been convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment for slaying Toronto police officers. In the past 80 years, 15 Toronto officers have been murdered. 

Vaillancourt was granted day parole in March after an application for full parole was refused. 

The two others who remain in jail on life sentences - and not eligible for parole for 25 years - are Clinton Junior Gayle, who was convicted of murdering Constable Todd Baylis in 1994, and Craig Munro, who killed Constable Michael Sweet in 1980. 

Of the others, five have been hanged, one committed suicide, one was deported, one was confined to a mental institution, another was found not guilty by reason of insanity, two were shot and killed by police officers during the incidents, and one was released on parole after serving a second-degree murder sentence of 11 years. 

Day parole requires Vaillancourt to return to a federal penitentiary in Quebec each night after spending the day doing community work or visiting his family, said Sonia LaCroix, a spokesperson for the National Parole Board in Montreal. Vaillancourt's exact location is confidential, LaCroix said. 

Parole documents show the National Parole Board extended Vaillancourt's day parole for another six months in July. 

Now 49, Vaillancourt was 24 when he shot and killed Maitland, 35, on Feb. 1, 1973, after a bank robbery at Coxwell-Danforth Aves. 

The officer died before being able to pull his gun from his holster. He left his wife Pauline, who was five months pregnant, and two young children. 

Vaillancourt was sentenced to hang, but his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after Ottawa abolished the death penalty in 1976 - with him being at the centre of a highly emotional political debate. 

He fought all the way to Canada's top court to have his sentence reduced, but in 1992 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that he would have to serve 25 years before becoming eligible for parole. 

News that Vaillancourt had received day parole - after previously being released to a half-way house - brought painful memories to Toronto police Detective Constable Brian McCullum. 

McCullum, who was a 22-year-old officer in training and witnessed the shooting, said the decision was hard to accept, especially because of the recent murder of Detective Constable William Hancox, who was stabbed to death last week in Scarborough. 

Like Maitland, Hancox also left behind a pregnant wife. The 32-year-old Hancox also had a 2-year-old daughter. 

McCullum said he still remembers what it was like to cower behind a car as he was shot at, without a gun, because he was in training. 

Now a 46-year-old detective with the Toronto force, McCullum said he knew Vaillancourt would one day be eligible for parole but never thought it would actually happen. 

``Vaillancourt has another 20 years to 30 years to live, but Leslie Maitland is still dead,'' McCullum said. ``The unborn child has never spoken to and known his father.'' 

Maitland's wife Pauline gave birth to a boy and she and her family later moved back to Scotland where both of them originally lived. 

``Mr. Vaillancourt can have another life if he wants,'' McCullum said. ``Twenty-five years is not long enough. Life should mean life.'' 

LaCroix said Vaillancourt's day parole would be reviewed every six months. 

National Parole Board documents show that Vaillancourt was initially granted day parole in November, 1995 and then granted regular parole in May, 1996. Regular parole allowed him to do community work and have family visits from a half-way house. LaCroix said she was unable to comment on why Vaillancourt was granted early parole. Last September, Vaillancourt's day parole was revoked after he was arrested for shoplifting from a Canadian Tire store. 

At this year's hearing in March for full parole, a three-member panel of the parole board denied his request, instead giving him day parole. 

Psychiatric reports prepared for the board said Vaillancourt was an anti-social person who has improved his social skills with counselling, but his rehabilitation in society would be a difficult process.