The Harper government is throwing its support behind a private member's bill that would keep some killers behind bars for up to 40 years before becoming eligible for parole.
The bill introduced by Manitoba Conservative James Bezan would allow judges to impose sentences of up to 40 years without parole for murders which involve a kidnapping and a sexual offence against the victim.
Currently, parole eligibility kicks in after 25 years — although Bezan said his research shows that for the class of crimes his bill targets, no offender has ever been granted parole.
"I want to stress that this is not about increasing punishment to the individuals who have committed these crimes," Bezan said at a news conference on Parliament Hill. "From what we can tell, they never get out of jail anyway.
"This is about giving the families (of victims) the peace of not having to go through these terrible experiences."
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson says the government will vote for the legislation.
"Canadians gave us a strong mandate to crack down on victimization in this country," said the minister.
Advocates want end to 'freebies'
Victims advocates fought for years for the right to appear at parole hearings and make submissions.
Now that they've won that power, they want parole hearings eliminated for the most heinous crimes because the experience is too traumatizing.
Sharon Rosenfeldt, whose 16-year-old son Daryn was one of the victims of serial killer Clifford Olsen in 1981, joined Bezan and Nicholson to champion the parole changes, and she used the principle of tougher sentencing as her first argument.
"This bill would give judges the discretion to sentence appropriately by using the parole ineligibility process to ensure the offender is held accountable for all of the serious crimes they have committed," she said, noting that in the case of an abduction, sexual assault and murder, the offender is sentenced for the most serious offence only.
The abduction and sexual assault crimes, she said, "essentially, they are freebies."
Yet Rosenfeldt maintained that the changes are all about "revictimization. It's nothing to do with punishment."
She said victims families are compelled to attend parole hearings, even when there is no prospect of the offender getting out of prison.
Changes not retroactive
"It's very, very important to be part of the proceedings. In fact we've been asking for years, we just want to be party to every proceeding, and that includes parole."
The Bezan bill would make things easier, said Rosenfeldt, because victims' families "would not necessarily have to attend parole hearings every two years for the rest of the offender's life or our life."
Bezan cited a number of horrendous, high-profile murderers, including Olsen, Robert Picton, Russell Williams and Terri-Lynne McClintic, to buttress his bill.
But the legislation is not retroactive and would only apply to future sentences. That means the practical impact of the proposed legal change will not be felt for at least 25 years.