OTTAWA - Criminals who are convicted of the worst crimes — such as multiple murders or sex assaults on children — could spend the rest of their lives behind bars, with no chance of parole, under planned federal legislation.
Justice Minister Peter MacKay elaborated Friday on the government's plan, promised in this week's throne speech, to lock some criminals up and throw away the key.
"We are talking about individuals who have committed the most heinous crimes serving an entire life in prison," MacKay said during a conference call to discuss the Conservative government's justice-related priorities.
MacKay said the forthcoming provisions would be applied very narrowly.
"When I say the worst of the worst, the most violent, repeat offenders, we're talking about multiple murders, multiple sexual assaults on the most vulnerable — our children," he said. "We want to ensure that certain individuals capable and convicted of those offences will never be let out of prison.
"The primary responsibility of any government, first and foremost, is to protect the public. And we intend to amplify and buttress our ability to do that."
Asked to cite the kind of offender the bill would cover, MacKay mentioned notorious sex killer Paul Bernardo as "an obvious example."
Bernardo is classified as a "dangerous offender," all but ensuring he is never set free.
MacKay acknowledged there are already tools — such as the dangerous offender designation — to keep some criminals from being released. The Conservative government has also scrapped the so-called faint-hope clause that allowed some inmates with life sentences to seek early parole.
Still, the government wants to ensure "there are no loopholes" in the law that criminals can exploit, MacKay said.
"This would both provide surety and public confidence, and that is the intent in bringing about further changes. I can't really say more than that until we have the legislation before Parliament."
The planned law will not make society any safer, but is sure to appeal to voters who demand harsher punishment for criminals, said Neil Boyd, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.
"It's all about catering to the fearful and the angry," Boyd said. "It's symbolic, it's not going to have any effect on the crime rate."
MacKay is quite right to say that some people should never be let out of jail, but there are already provisions in the law to ensure that, he added.
"Does anybody really think that Paul Bernardo will ever be let out of jail? The system works relatively well."
University of Toronto criminologist Anthony Doob echoed those thoughts, pointing to the case of now-dead serial killer Clifford Olson.
"What you have to remember is that the 'most heinous' people don't get out," Doob said.
"Was anyone really concerned that Clifford Olson might be released? He could have lived decades longer and still would never have been released."
Tougher penalties have consistently been a pillar of the Conservative approach to criminal justice since taking power in 2006, and the party has no time for those who question the rationale.
"That is in sharp contrast to the position that others have taken," MacKay said.
"It flies directly in the face of the faint-hope clause, which in many cases revictimized victims of violent offenders, who were constantly reminded of their loss and dragged before a parole hearing."
The government has also promised a victims bill of rights, stricter sentences for sex offenders and specific penalties for harming police service animals.
Also on HuffPost:
15 Things Critics Fear In The Tory Crime Bill
Opposition parties, professionals working within the corrections and justice systems, the Canadian Bar Association and various other interest groups have raised wide-ranging concerns about the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">omnibus crime bill</a>. Here is an overview of some of their objections. (CP/Alamy)
15. Harsher Sentences For Young Offenders
Changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act will impose tougher sentences for violent and repeat young offenders, make it easier to keep such offenders in custody prior to trial and expand the definition of what is considered a "violent offence" to include "creating a substantial likelihood of causing bodily harm" rather than just causing, attempting to cause or threatening to cause bodily harm. The new legislation will also require the Crown to consider adult sentences for offenders convicted of "serious violent offences" and require judges to consider lifting the publication ban on names of offenders convicted of "violent offences" even when they have been given youth sentences. Some of the concerns around these provisions raised by some of the professionals who work with young offenders include: (Alamy)
14. Young Offenders - Naming Names
The publication of names of some young offenders will unjustly stigmatize them for life. Quebec has asked that provinces be allowed to opt out of this provision. (Getty)
13. Young Offenders - Stiffer Sentences
Stiffer, longer sentences will turn young offenders into hardened criminals and undermine any potential for rehabilitation. (Alamy)
12. Young Offenders - Minorities Take The Brunt
As with other parts of the crime bill, critics says harsher sentencing rules and increased emphasis on incarceration will <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/20/bill-c-10-omnibus-crime_n_1289536.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">disproportionately affect aboriginal</a> and black Canadians, who are already over-represented in the criminal justice system. (Alamy)
11. Young Offenders - Forget Rehabilitation
The changes shift the emphasis of the Act from rehabilitation to "protection of society," which critics say will put the focus on punishing young offenders rather than steering them away from a life of crime. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/11/22/crime-bill-quebec-canada_n_1107717.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">Quebec, in particular, which prides itself on the success of the rehabilitative aspects of its youth justice system, has argued for stronger language prioritizing rehabilitation</a>. (Alamy)
10. Fewer Conditional Sentences
The legislation will eliminate conditional sentences, those served in the community or under house arrest, for a range of crimes, including sexual assault, manslaughter, arson, drug trafficking, kidnapping and fraud or theft over $5,000. It will also eliminate double credit for time already served. Critics say these changes will: (Getty)
9. Fewer Conditional Sentences - Spike Costs
Cost the federal and provincial justice and corrections systems millions of additional dollars a year. The parliamentary budget officer, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/28/omnibus-crime-bill-costs-conditional-sentences_n_1306528.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">Kevin Page, has estimated that the average cost per offender will rise from approximately $2,600 to $41,000</a> as a consequence of the elimination of conditional sentences. (Alamy)
8. Fewer Conditional Sentences - More Trials And Hearings
- Lead to more trials as those accused of crimes will be less likely to plead guilty if they know there is no chance they will get a conditional sentence and will be more likely to take their chances on a trial. Some have predicted this will lead to greater backlogs in an already backlogged court system. - Result in more parole hearings. Page's analysis predicted that with the increase in the number of incarcerations, there will be more offenders coming up for parole, which will increase costs for federal and provincial parole review boards. A single review by the Parole Board of Canada costs an estimated $4,289, Page estimated. (Alamy)
7. Mandatory Minimums
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/22/bill-c-10-drugs-mandatory-minimums-omnibus_n_1292894.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">By far the most criticized aspect of the bill is the introduction of mandatory jail sentences for certain crimes, including drug trafficking, sex crimes, child exploitation and some violent offences</a>. Opponents of the measures have argued that this type of sentencing has been tried in other jurisdictions, most notably in the U.S., and has created more problems than it has solved. Critics say that coupled with other changes in the bill, such as increases in the maximum sentences handed down to some drug offenders and sexual predators and elimination of conditional sentences in some cases, mandatory minimums will burden Canada's prison and court systems in ways that are unfeasible, untenable and have little benefit. In particular, they argue that mandatory minimum sentences will: (Jupiter Images)
6. Mandatory Minimums - Higher Costs
Increase the costs of prosecuting and incarcerating offenders and leave fewer funds for rehabilitation programs. (Alamy)
5. Mandatory Minimums - Overcrowding
Lead to overcrowding in prisons. (Alamy)
4. Mandatory Minimums - Make Judges Less Powerful
- Remove judges' discretion to tailor sentences to the specifics of a particular case and offender and force them to apply blanket, one-size-fits-all sentences regardless of circumstances - Limit the use of alternate sentencing measures of the type currently applied to aboriginal offenders. (Alamy)
3. Mandatory Minimums - Over-Punish Drug Offenders
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/02/omnibus-crime-bill-pierre-claude-nolin_n_1316481.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">Disproportionately punish small-time drug offenders and have limited effect on the drug producers, organized crime bosses and serious drug traffickers</a> the government says it wants to target. (Alamy)
2. Mandatory Minimums - What's The Point?
Have little rehabilitative effect on offenders and rather leave them more, not less, likely to re-offend. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/11/27/tough-on-crime-conservatives-doubt-tough-sentences_n_1115012.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill">Critics point to numerous studies showing harsher incarceration laws do not have a deterrent effect on criminals or lower crime rates</a>. (Alamy)
1. Mandatory Minimums - What Charter?
Violate provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and open up the government to legal challenges on grounds that the sentencing rules violate certain rights that offenders have under the Charter, such as the right to liberty, the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment and the right to equal protection and benefit of the law. (Alamy)