Tories' Plan To Jail Worst Criminals For Life Rejected By NDP, Liberals

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OTTAWA - The government's long-promised plan to lock up some criminals and throw away the key will make prisons more dangerous, opposition MPs say.

Denying any chance of parole to the worst violent offenders will increase the chances of prison guards being attacked, the NDP and Liberal public safety critics said Tuesday as the government signalled legislation would come before summer.

Opposition MPs want a greater emphasis on rehabilitating inmates.

Criminologists dismissed the life-behind-bars initiative after it was announced in the October 2013 speech from the throne, saying there are already legal provisions to ensure the most heinous offenders never get out.

At the time, the government said those convicted of the worst crimes — such as multiple murders or sex assaults on children — could spend the rest of their lives in prison.

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney says legislation will be tabled before Parliament rises in June.

"People who commit serious and violent crimes in a repetitive manner constitute a menace to society," Blaney said Tuesday after a House of Commons committee meeting.

"The premier objective is to protect society."

When the plan was first outlined, Justice Minister Peter MacKay said the 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," MacKay said shortly after the throne speech.

"We want to ensure that certain individuals capable and convicted of those offences will never be let out of prison."

MacKay acknowledged there are 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" that criminals can exploit, MacKay said.

In the Commons, Conservative MP Daryl Kramp pounced on the opposition Tuesday, saying he was disturbed to learn the NDP and Liberals "will oppose this legislation — legislation that they have not even yet read."

Opposition critics actually said they would look at the government's bill before pronouncing judgment. But they clearly characterized the Conservative approach as wrongheaded.

"This is a government that emphasizes punishment, punishment, punishment, when the purpose of our corrections system is to build safer communities by rehabilitating those who are in the prison system," said NDP public safety critic Randall Garrison.

Offenders sentenced to life may be released from prison one day, but they remain under supervision for the rest of their lives, he noted after the meeting.

"We already have in this country a life sentence that means life. And we also have very high success rates of those who are on parole."

The American prison system saw violence increase under policies that emphasized putting more people in jail, Garrison added. "So I would have concern about the safety of corrections officials in that kind of situation."

Liberal public safety critic Wayne Easter echoed that fear.

"You have an offender that is much more dangerous as a rule," Easter said. "He or she is going to be in prison in any event, and so what's the difference if they get in trouble and cause correctional officers difficulties?"

Easter stressed the need for prevention and rehabilitation.

"It's been proven time and time again that penalties alone are not the answer."

Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

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