The family of Melissa Dawn Peacock, a Nova Scotia woman who was murdered three years ago, is starting a national campaign to change the definition of life in prison.

Peacock was 20 years old when she was murdered by Dustan Joseph Preeper and his brother, Joshua Michael Preeper. The brothers drove her to an isolated area of Hants County before stabbing her, dragging her into the woods and setting her body on fire.

Earlier this month, Dustan Preeper pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in Peacock's death and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 25 years.

He also pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the 2010 death of another man, Ben Hare, and will be serving that life sentence concurrently.

Joshua Preeper pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and must serve 12 years before parole eligibility.


Melissa Peacock was 20 years old when she was murdered by Dustan Joseph Preeper and his brother, Joshua Michael Preeper. (Halifax Regional Police)

Rufus Peacock, Melissa's grandfather, said the maximum life sentence of 25 years is not enough.

"We've got to do something about this. We've got to change that to life imprisonment, period," he said.

"If this law can be brought in and life imprisonment is life imprisonment, then these people will not come out and reoffend again. Just that would satisfy us."

Peacock said he's written to federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay and is going to start an online petition while also reaching out to the families of other murder victims.

"That's what we want to do, is to meet with these families and just tell them what we propose to do and we would like to have them behind us, which I know they will."

In a statement, MacKay said the federal government is working toward ensuring criminals are held accountable.

"Canadians are frustrated and don't understand why the worst of the worst violent offenders, who prey on our families and communities, would ever be let out of prison," he said.

"We are currently reviewing options to ensure that a life sentence actually means life in specific instances, all the while ensuring that legislative options we bring forward operate within Canada's constitutional framework. Canadians deserve no less."

'There's a light at the end of the tunnel'

In 2011, the federal government enacted the Multiple Murders Act, which allows judges to impose consecutive terms of parole ineligibility for those who commit more than one murder.

Because Dustan Preeper killed Ben Hare in 2010 — before the change to the act — Preeper could not be given consecutive sentences for his crimes.

Joel Pink, a defence lawyer, said he sympathizes with families who have lost loved ones but pointed out not all murderers are automatically released from prison after their sentence expires.

"I want to emphasize eligibility because that means that it is not automatic," he said Monday.

"It is my opinion that there are provisions presently that allows the Parole Board to prevent people from being released if in fact they do not meet the requirements that are necessary."

Joel Pink, defence lawyer

Joel Pink, a defence lawyer based in Halifax, said not all murderers are automatically released from prison after their sentence expires. (CBC)

Pink said after 25 years, he hopes a prisoner is rehabilitated. But if he or she misbehaves in prison or gets into further trouble, the Parole Board of Canada has the power to refuse parole even if the prisoner is eligible.

"When it comes to murder, life is life but there's a light at the end of the tunnel if in fact you rehabilitate yourself, accept responsibility for the crime that you committed, show some empathy for the victim and their families and show that you're not a person of a violence and it's not going to happen again," he said.

But Peacock said calling current sentences "life sentences" is wrong because prisoners can be released.

"If we can bring this in, I think that it might save someone's life, really. That's what we're looking at," he said.

"If Melissa could hear us, she'd be very pleased to see something like this. We're not forgetting her and we're trying to do as much for someone else who might be in the same predicament."