When Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976 the Criminal Code of Canada was amended to provide that offenders convicted of first degree murder would serve 25 years in prison, while those convicted of second degree murder would serve between 10 and 25 years.
At the same time, the federal government passed a law that permitted offenders serving more than 15 years of a life sentence to apply under section 745.6 of the Criminal Code for early release on parole. This provision became known as the “faint hope clause”, although critics of the law referred to it as the “sure bet” section, citing a success rate of 77% for those who applied.
The law was intended to motivate “lifers” to participate in rehabilitation and educational programs and give them a reason to behave while they were behind bars, with the prize being early release.
Between 1987 and 2006 1500 prisoners were eligible to apply, however, only 145 made applications and of those 97 were granted early parole.
The “faint hope” procedure requires an inmate to submit an application which is reviewed by the Chief Justice in the province where the offence was committed. If the Chief Justice believes the applicant has a reasonable prospect of success, a twelve member jury is convened to determine whether the candidate should be granted early release.
The jury considers the nature of the offence, its effect on the victims, and the applicant’s conduct and character in prison. A decision to grant early parole by the jury must be unanimous and the jury’s recommendation is then delivered to Canada’s National Parole Board where the final decision is made.
The case of serial killer Clifford Olson, who murdered eleven children in British Columbia in the early 1980’s, and first applied for early release in 1997, best illustrates the flaws of section 745.6. Olson’s horrific spree of child rape and murder shattered Canada’s innocence and his capture and life imprisonment was a fitting conclusion in the absence of a death penalty.
However, sociopath Olson has used the prison system, including the possibility of early parole, to haunt and taunt the victims of his crimes. After his first application, Olson applied again in 2006 and is eligible to apply every two years.
The federal government amended the law after Olson’s application and barred applications from prisoners convicted of multiple murders, but the amendment was not retroactive and thus, Olson retained a platform to spew his deranged prattle.
Yesterday Canada’s Senate granted final approval to the abolition of Canada’s “get out of jail” card, a move that has significant public support and advances the government’s popular “tough on crime” agenda.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang