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Proposed law on parole is 'outrageous and alarming:' Rosen

Canadian Press THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO – The federal government will introduce new legislation to ensure that a life sentence means exactly that – a sentence for life without parole – Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Wednesday.

The new bill will apply to those convicted of first-degree murder involving the killing of police officers or correctional officers; terrorism; kidnapping or sexual assault and crimes ``of a particularly brutal nature.''

It would also apply to those who commit high treason.

``Next week, our government will introduce legislation to ensure that for the most heinous offenders and the most horrific crimes a life sentence in Canada will henceforth mean exactly that – a sentence for life,'' Harper announced in front of a crowd that included families of murder victims.

Currently, those who are convicted of first-degree murder face an automatic sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

Harper said that in order to address constitutional concerns, under the new law, some killers serving life without parole will be permitted to petition the minister for public safety for release after serving no less than 35 years.

``This is not parole,'' Harper said. ``Unlike parole, decisions will not rest with an appointed board but with the federal cabinet, men and women fully accountable to their fellow citizens and to the families of the victims of these crimes.''

Toronto criminal lawyer John Rosen describes the proposed law as “unfortunate” and one that shows a “fundamental misunderstanding of how the judicial and penal systems work in this country.

“This is outrageous and not at all surprising as the Conservatives scramble for votes,” he says. 

Rosen, partner at Rosen Naster LLP, says it’s particularly alarming that the proposed legislation would allow those convicted of crimes that are ineligible for parole to appeal for release to the public safety minister after serving 35 years. 

“This is effectively removing the responsibility of determining parole away from the Parole Board of Canada – something that is a mistake,” he says. “Putting this decision into the hands of politicians and within the secrecy of cabinet isn’t appropriate. Politicians have no experience dealing with inmates. The proposed system opens the process up to decisions being made in secret that are based on strictly political considerations.

The legislation fits into the Harper government's tough-on-crime agenda as it gears up for an election later this year and follows through on a promise made in the 2013 Speech from the Throne.

The Conservatives have added dozens of mandatory minimum sentences, from drug and gun crimes to sex offences.

© 2015 The Canadian Press

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