Department of Justice Canada

Department of Justice Canada

December 01, 2011 12:06 ET

Legislation Providing Tougher Sentences for Murderers Comes Into Force

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Dec. 1, 2011) - The Honourable Rob Nicholson, P.C., Q.C., M.P. for Niagara Falls, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, and Robert Goguen, M.P. for Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, announced that as of December 2nd, two Acts which provide tougher sentences for murderers will have come into force. The Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act ensures that multiple murderers serve their parole ineligibility periods one after another. An Act to amend the Criminal Code and another Act (originally called the Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act) effectively repeals the "faint-hope clause" that allowed murderers to obtain early parole.

"These two pieces of legislation are further examples of our Government's commitment to keeping our streets and communities safe and ensuring truth in sentencing," said Minister Nicholson. "Canadians want to know that criminals are held accountable for their crimes. Making multiple murderers serve their parole ineligibility periods one after another, and effectively repealing the faint hope clause will do just that."

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act

Under the previous system, criminals convicted of multiple murders served their parole ineligibility periods concurrently, meaning that they were eligible to apply for parole after just one period ranging from 10 to 25 years, depending on their sentence. The Act to end sentence discounts allows judges to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods of 25 years for each victim on individuals convicted of more than one first- or second-degree murder. This would mean that convicted multiple murderers would need to serve a significantly longer overall period in custody before they were eligible to apply for parole.

"Ending sentence discounts for multiple murderers acknowledges the value of each life taken," said Mr. Goguen. "Our Government is standing up for victims of crime and their families by making sure that criminals receive sentences that reflect the seriousness of their crimes."

First-degree murder and two categories of second-degree murder carry a mandatory life sentence with no eligibility for parole for 25 years. The remaining categories of second-degree murder carry a mandatory life sentence with no eligibility for parole for a minimum of 10 years up to a maximum of 25 years.

Repealing the "faint-hope clause"

The Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act ensures that criminals who commit first-degree murder on or after tomorrow's date are not eligible for parole until they serve the full 25 years of their sentence. Similarly, offenders serving life imprisonment for second-degree murder are no longer eligible for parole until their parole ineligibility period is served, which could be up to 25 years.

"Families of victims should not have to relive their losses by attending multiple early parole eligibility hearings," said Minister Nicholson. "This Act puts the needs of law-abiding citizens ahead of criminals, and it spares the victimized from continually reliving their losses."

Offenders who commit murder on or after tomorrow's date will no longer be able to apply to be eligible for early parole under the faint-hope regime. Those who are currently serving their life sentence or awaiting sentence will face tougher rules when they apply.

An online version of the legislation is available at www.parl.gc.ca

BACKGROUNDER: LEGISLATION TO REPEAL THE "FAINT HOPE" CLAUSE

The Former Bill S-6 (called the Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act)

The repeal of the faint hope clause means that offenders who commit murder will no longer be eligible to apply for early parole. Those who serve a life sentence for first-degree murder are not eligible to apply to the Parole Board for parole until they have served at least 25 years.

Those who will serve a life sentence for second-degree murder will not be eligible to apply to the Parole Board for parole until their ineligibility period is served, which will be between 10 and 25 years.

The previous regime will still apply to those offenders who are currently serving a life sentence or awaiting sentencing for murder. Even in these cases, though, the new legislation makes it more difficult for those offenders to apply to be eligible for early parole under the faint hope clause, by setting the following conditions:

  • a judge has to be satisfied that there is a substantial likelihood that a jury would agree unanimously to reduce the applicant's parole eligibility date;
  • after serving at least 10 years of his or her sentence, an offender has only three months in which to apply to be considered for faint hope relief;
  • if the offender does not apply within the three-month period, he or she has to wait a minimum of five years before getting another chance to apply; and
  • an offender whose application is rejected must wait at least five years before re-applying. Again, the period to re-apply would only be three months following the expiry of the five-year waiting period.

Requiring those offenders who are currently serving a life sentence or awaiting sentencing for murder to wait longer before re-applying after an initial rejection will bring more peace of mind to the families and loved ones of their victims. Under the old system, unsuccessful applicants could potentially apply a total of five times: at the end of the 15-, 17-, 19-, 21- and 23-year marks. Now, they will only be able to apply two times: once when they become eligible after serving 15 years of their life sentence, and once more five years later.

The previous regime

Under the previous legislation, offenders sentenced to life imprisonment for committing first- or second-degree murder could apply to a Chief Justice or a Superior Court Justice to have their parole eligibility period reviewed by a jury. They could apply after serving 15 years of their sentence and demonstrating to the judge only that they had a "reasonable prospect" of success in order to obtain a jury review of their Parole Eligibility Date.

The parole system

When parole is granted, the offender remains under supervision for the rest of his or her life unless parole is revoked, in which case the person would be returned to prison. Conviction for a new offence would not only be a breach of the parole conditions but could also result in the offender being returned to prison.

Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murderers

The amendments above are an important part of the Government of Canada's commitment to enhance truth in sentencing and ensure that Canadians are protected from violent criminals. On December 2, 2011, the Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act (Bill C-48) came into force. Families of victims argue that allowing criminals to serve life sentences for multiple murders concurrently devalues the lives of victims and puts Canadians at risk by allowing multiple murderers to be paroled earlier than merited, given the seriousness of their crimes. Bill C-48 puts an end to this practice, and judges are now able to impose consecutive 25-year parole ineligibility periods, one for each victim, on individuals convicted of more than one first- or second-degree murder. This means that convicted multiple murderers would need to serve a significantly longer overall period of custody before they were eligible to apply for parole.

BACKGROUNDER: ENDING SENTENCE DISCOUNTS FOR MULTIPLE MURDERERS

The Former System for Parole Ineligibility Periods

Murder is considered first-degree when it is "planned and deliberate," when the victim is a police officer or engaged in law enforcement or corrections, or when death occurs during the commission of crimes, including aircraft hijacking, hostage taking, kidnapping, and sexual assault. All other murders are considered second-degree. In 1976, Parliament repealed the death penalty and introduced mandatory terms of life imprisonment for offenders convicted of first- and second-degree murder. First-degree murder and two categories of second-degree murder have a parole ineligibility period of 25 years. The remaining categories of second-degree murder have a minimum parole ineligibility period of 10 years, to a maximum of 25 years - the actual period within this range is set out in each case by the sentencing court. Under the former system, individuals convicted of multiple murders served their life sentences concurrently and were therefore subject to only one parole ineligibility period.

The Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act (Bill C-48)

Families of victims argue that the fact that life sentences for multiple murders are served concurrently devalues the lives of victims and puts Canadians at risk by allowing multiple murderers to be paroled earlier than merited, given the seriousness of their crimes. The new legislation puts an end to this situation, enabling judges to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods for each victim when individuals are convicted of more than one first- or second-degree murder. This means that offenders would need to serve a significantly longer overall period in custody before they are eligible to apply for parole.

It is not mandatory under the new legislation for a judge to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods for multiple murderers. Judges will have discretion to consider the character of the offender, the nature and circumstances of the offence, and any jury recommendations before deciding on whether to impose consecutive 25-year parole ineligibility periods. For the benefit of the families and loved ones of victims, judges are required to state orally or in writing the basis for their decision either to impose, or not to impose, consecutive parole ineligibility periods on multiple murderers.

Repeal of the "Faint-Hope" Clause

The amendments above are an important part of the Government of Canada's commitment to enhancing truth in sentencing and ensuring that Canadians are protected from violent criminals. On December 2, 2011, legislation (Bill S-6, originally titled the Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act) came into force which repeals the "faint-hope" clause of the Criminal Code for all future offenders.

The repeal of the "faint-hope" clause means that offenders who commit murder on or after the day the repeal came into force will no longer be able to apply to be eligible for early parole. Those given a life sentence for first-degree murder are not be eligible to apply to the Parole Board of Canada for parole until they have served at least 25 years. Those given a life sentence for second-degree murder are not eligible to apply until the imposed period is served, which could be up to 25 years.

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Contact Information

  • Julie Di Mambro
    Press Secretary
    Office of the Minister of Justice
    613-992-4621

    Media Relations
    Department of Justice
    613-957-4207
    www.canada.justice.gc.ca