A Life Sentence in Canada Will Soon Mean an Actual Life Sentence for Nastiest Murderers

Even with the murder rate as low as it's been, the government plans on jailing particularly nasty killers forever.

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Mar 4 2015, 6:26pm

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has pushed a "tough-on-crime" agenda throughout his political career. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

If you plan on killing someone, now's the time—the Harper government is about to remove the eligibility for parole for particularly nasty murderers.

At an event in Scarborough on Wednesday, the prime minister told supporters and families of murder victims that he's planning on introducing legislation that would automatically keep certain violent criminals, and those convicted of high treason, in jail forever.

Any Canadian found guilty of first degree murder that involves sexual assault, kidnapping or forcible confinement, terrorism, the killing of a police or correctional officer, or any other killing "of a particularly brutal nature" would automatically be sentenced to life in prison without any chance of parole, unless there are "exceptional circumstances."

After 35 years in jail, a convicted killer facing a lifetime in prison can petition the minister of public safety to be released.

"Let me be clear: 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 criminals."

Harper was joined by Justice Minister Peter MacKay, who has presided over many of the government's new tough-on-crime changes.

"The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, there are certain criminals who should never, ever, be allowed to walk the streets where you and your neighbours live and work or the streets where our children play," Harper said.

That new mandatory minimum is sure to draw flak. Currently, the maximum penalty under the law is 25 years without parole—though many violent offenders never actually see the light of day. Judges can, however, impose consecutive sentences for multiple murders. That means that for every murder another 25 years without parole is added to the offender's sentence.

The changes, however, might not stand up. As the Globe and Mail reported the day before the announcement, some in the governing caucus were concerned that jailing people in perpetuity would be found unconstitutional. The Charter, of course, protects Canadians' right to liberty, except in cases where it's reasonable to deprive them of it.

The Supreme Court likely won't be fond of the idea of leaving the only recourse for liberty to the federal cabinet—even if they have been convicted of high treason.

Evidently, the government lawyers who asked that the proposal be taken off the table were overruled.

After Harper's remarks Wednesday, Sharon Rosenfeldt‎ took the stage to offer personal perspective on the bill. Her son Daryn was murdered by serial killer Clifford Olsen in 1981. Olsen died in prison, but he made frequent requests for parole.

"When Clifford Olsen murdered our son, we also got a life sentence," Rosenfeldt told the room.

Afterwards, the prime minister returned to the stage and made the extraordinary decision to take questions from journalists, something he rarely does.

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