At the start of this month, Stephen Harper's conservative government announced their latest tough on crime legislation called ironically “life means life act”. This legislation will deny even the possibility of parole to certain people convicted of the most heinous first-degree murders. It is also completely unnecessary and is being presented purely to score political points.
At present anyone convicted of first-degree murder automatically receives a life sentence without any possibility of parole for 25 years. After serving 25 years they then can apply to the parole board for various types of release, but that is rarely initially granted and most first-degree convicts serve 30 to 35 years before being released. If they are released they are still on parole for the rest of their lives and even the smallest infraction can lead to being re-incarcerated. The reality is that the rate of recidivism amongst this type of prisoner is extremely rare.
We also have dangerous offender legislation wherein a crown can apply (in those most heinous of cases) that the accused be declared a dangerous offender. If the offender is labeled dangerous he will be held indefinitely until he can establish that he is no longer a threat in any way to the public. The reality is most dangerous offenders will stay in jail for the rest of their lives.
This legislation also brings politics into the parole sphere. The new act says that after 35 years the convict can apply to the government minister for release. This would bypass the parole board which is a group of people trained and familiar with how this process works and puts the decision into the hands of the Federal Minister who would clearly look at the politics of the situation as opposed to the rehabilitation of the offender.
In Canada, we have always prided ourselves on a judicial system that has compassion and the belief that an accused can be rehabilitated. This legislation not only ignores the concept of rehabilitation, it replaces it with revenge and punishment, and it also eliminates the important principle of “hope” for even Canada's worst prisoners.
As this article has indicated first-degree murder already carries the penalty of life imprisonment and we also have dangerous offender legislation to further protect the public from those extremely rare worst offenders. The reality is with our present system the Paul Bernardo’s and Clifford Olson's will never see the outside of a prison. We do not need new legislation to prevent something from happening that isn’t happening in the first place. So why enact this law?
The real purpose of this legislation is to drum up political support for the Conservatives as they face an election likely this fall. Once again they are ignoring facts and using fear to gather support at the polls. The irony is this law will most likely be struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, however that process is years away and the election is right around the corner.