Tories move to nix 'faint hope' parole clause

Convicted murderers will not be able to apply for early parole under a new bill announced Tuesday by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson.

Convicted murderers will not be able to apply for early parole under a new bill announced Tuesday by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson first announced last summer that the government would try to repeal the Criminal Code's 'faint hope' clause for convicted murderers. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))

The federal government is moving once again to scotch the Criminal Code's so-called faint hope clause, which allows killers to seek parole up to 10 years earlier than normal if they can satisfy a jury that they've reformed.

Nicholson said the bill would ensure that anyone serving a life sentence for first-degree murder would not be eligible for parole for at least 25 years, and those found guilty of second-degree murder would have to serve out their full parole-ineligibility period.

"This is good news for victims and good news for everyone that believes murderers must serve serious time," Nicholson said.

Currently, the punishment for first-degree murder is a life sentence with no parole for at least 25 years, and for second-degree murder, a life sentence with no parole for a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 25.

But Section 745.6 of the Criminal Code permits murderers to apply for early parole after they've served 15 years. A judge initially reviews the file and, with input from Corrections Canada and the justice minister, decides whether to submit it to a jury. The 12-person jury then has the final say whether to reduce a killer's parole-ineligibility period, and by how much.

People convicted of multiple murders are not eligible for early parole.

Under the government's proposed changes, convicts currently serving or awaiting murder sentences would still have access to early parole, but under stricter conditions. Those would include a shorter window in which to apply and, if they are rejected, a mandatory five-year wait before reapplying, instead of the current two years.

Second repeal attempt

It's the second time the Tories have introduced what they call their "serious time for a serious crime" bill.

Their first attempt came to naught when Prime Minister Stephen Harper chose to prorogue Parliament late last year, killing all bills still on the order paper.

This time, the bill is being introduced in the Senate, which Harper has blamed in the past for holding up his crime legislation.

With a raft of recent Senate appointments, the Conservatives now effectively control the upper chamber, which had been dominated by the Liberals for years.     

The faint-hope clause was added to the Criminal Code after Parliament abolished the death penalty in 1976 and replaced it with mandatory lifelong prison terms for murder. The clause is aimed at encouraging rehabilitation for convicted murderers and to align with other countries that allow convicted murderers to be paroled after 15 years.