‘Life will mean life’ under proposed murder law: Justice minister
OTTAWA — Multiple murderers and serial killers could be ineligible for parole for their entire lives if a bill introduced on Wednesday becomes law.
Judges will be empowered to impose consecutive periods of parole ineligibility on murderers who kill more than one person, putting an end to “sentence discounts” which treat single and multiple killers the same, said Justice Minister Rob Nicholson.
A killer who murders three victims, for instance, could receive a life sentence with no parole eligibility for up to 75 years, rather than the current Criminal Code provision permitting first-degree murderers to apply after 25 years, regardless of the number of people they killed.
Nicholson said that “life will mean life” if his new bill passes Parliament.
“Once this bill becomes law, multiple murderers will no longer get volume discounts,” Nicholson told a news conference. “The value of each life taken will be acknowledged.”
He said that his motivation, in part, is to protect family members of victims from having to endure parole hearings every two years.
First-degree murderers are automatically sentenced to life in prison, with little chance of parole for 25 years. After that, they are entitled to regular hearings before the National Parole Board.
Second-degree murderers also receive life sentences, but they are eligible for parole within 10 to 25 years, at a judge’s discretion when sentencing.
That means serial killers such as Clifford Olson and Robert Pickton are entitled to regular parole hearings.
Nicholson said that 28 per cent of 457 multiple murderers who have served time in Canadian prisons have been released and the average term of incarceration is 28 years.
Sharon Rosenfeldt, whose 16-year-old son Daryn was one of Olson’s 11 victims, said that the bill, if adopted, comes too late to make a difference for her and that she will be attending parole hearings indefinitely.
She said that her husband Gary’s wish, before he died of cancer earlier this year, was that victims would not have to endure similar traumas. “I vowed that I would never give up,” said Rosenfeldt, a founder of the group Victims of Violence.
She noted that there are only a small number of serial killers — those who kill separately rather than in one multiple act — who are serving time in Canadian prisons and most will never be released regardless. Olson was denied parole in 2006.
The bill does not require judges to impose consecutive terms of parole ineligibility, but leaves it to their discretion so that not all multiple killers would be subject to the proposed rules. For instance, a drunk driver who killed five people might be sentenced to the same parole ineligibility as a killer of one person, said a spokeswoman for Nicholson.
The justice minister said that he decided against imposing consecutive rather than concurrent terms because “we have to be very careful about charter challenges and to make sure legislation complies.”
Debate over imposing consecutive periods of parole ineligibility on lifers was on the parliamentary radar screen a decade ago, when Liberal backbencher Albina Guarnieri, motivated by serial killer Paul Bernardo, introduced a private member’s bill that would have disqualified multiple killers from parole eligibility for at least 50 years.