The Harper Government’s latest plan to “get tough on crime” will be introduced to Parliament next week. What with an election brewing, the Tories have come up with another down home, folksy angle on appearing to be the only federal party prepared to save Canada from “the most heinous offenders”. The new legislation proposes that for the most horrific crimes, a life sentence will henceforth mean exactly that: a sentence for the rest of the inmate’s life. At a meeting this week in front of a crowd that included families of murder victims, Stephen Harper announced that the new Criminal Code provisions would apply to those covicted of first-degree murder that involves terrorism, treason, kidnapping, sexual assault, killing peace officers or “particularly brutal” murders.
The optics of this new legislation will certainly look good to average Canadians who, naturally, are appalled by murder, and in particular those convicted of planned and deliberate murder. The reality, however, is that the present sentencing law for those convicted of first degree murder is already a madatory life sentence. The person is not eligible to apply for parole until they have served 25 years of their sentence. At one point Canadian law provided for what was known as the “faint hope clause”, which allowed those convicted of first degree murder to apply, after 15 years, for a reduction of the 25 year period of parole ineligibility to 15 years. The Tories, however, repealed this law in 2011. First-degree murderers (or those convicted of multiple second-degree murders) already get a minimum life sentence withot the chance of parole for 25 years. Even when paroled, they must answer to the Prole Board until death.
The NDP and Liberals would be hard pressed to campaign on a platform of more rights and liberties for murderers, but the reality is that most dangerous killers are already denied parole and remain incarcerated for life. Francoise Boiven, the NDP justice critic said that ” decisions about release should be based on the risk individual poses to the community and how best to protect public safety”. Other opponants to the proposed legislation from Justin Trudeau to criminal law experts have panned the new laws, as Trudeau put it “campaigning on fear, which Harper is really good at”, but adding that “we can all agree that bad criminals should not be released.”