This week our Prime Minister announced that a new Government Bill will be introduced in the House of Commons early next week. This bill proposes to change the terms of parole for some of Canada’s most disturbing and senseless acts of murder to ensure that in these situations a life sentence in jail more closely resembles a sentence for life. It will be proposed that in serious criminal cases that involve a conviction of first degree murder, that is murder that is both planned and deliberately executed, would be subject to a life sentence without parole.
What types of serious criminal offences would apply? A kidnap or sexual assault that results in a murder, first degree murder of police, correctional guards or other law enforcement personnel, and acts of terrorism are a few examples where life sentences without parole could apply.
Although parole eligibility would be eliminated in these situations those who have served a life sentence after a minimum of 35 years could apply to the Minister of Public Safety for exceptional release. Decisions on application for special release would ultimately be subject to Ministerial approval and not part of a conventional parole hearing process.
While these proposed changes would only impact a relatively small number of our most serious criminal offenders they will be welcome news for a very important segment of Canadians: the friends, families and victims who are left behind after such a senseless loss. Many are unaware that Canada’s current parole entitlement to criminals means that even those with potentially no hope of release are still able to participate in a parole hearing every two years. For family and friends of a murdered loved one, this often results in travelling a significant distance to be forced to re-live one of life’s most traumatizing moments every two years. It is a very painful process that is often referred to as “re-victimization” and as I have stated previously in the House of Commons, for victims it should not have to be this way.
While some think of well publicized murders such as Clifford Olson or Paul Bernardo, even here in Okanagan-Coquihalla the family and friends of the Johnson and Bentley families have been forced to re-live this tragedy as convicted murdered David Shearing remains eligible for these parole hearings. Last fall I presented a petition of over 10,000 signatures from Okanagan-Coquihalla to the Minister of Public Safety opposing the release of Mr. Shearing. For many volunteers, who in some cases have also lost loved ones, the process of collecting these signatures is a painful but important exercise.
Although there have been private members bills previously that have proposed an end to this re-victimization of families through the current parole process, none to date have received Royal Assent. A Government Bill, though not retro-active, would ensure families who have been victimized by brutal and senseless acts of first degree murder would not be forced to continue to revisit such a devastating trauma every two years. I welcome your views on this or any subject before the House of Commons. I can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 1 (800) 665-8711.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.