It’s part of the Conservative’s “tough on crime” agenda.
Forcing those convicted of the most heinous crimes to remain in prison for at least 35 years before applying to the Justice Minister for parole.
The promise is popular on the campaign circuit, with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper saying it will make Canada safer.
“God forbid we should ever find ourselves saying that we could have, should have, gone farther, done more, and that we did not do enough to prevent another horrible crime.”
But How True Is it?
Will keeping people convicted of the most horrific crimes behind bars for at least 35 years actually make Canada safer?
Resurrecting an old bill
The Conservatives first raised the issue of “Life Means Life” in the spring.
Currently, the maximum sentence in Canada is life in prison, with no chance of parole for 25 years.
Bill C-53 was introduced, which would extend it to 35 years, but leave parole decisions with the federal cabinet.
That bill died when the election was called.
The re-commitment to the promise leaves some questions.
Will the new bill be exactly the same as the old one? That is unclear.
Risk of more violence
Canada’s Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers says he cannot speak about legislation he has not seen, but is familiar with the bill that died when the election was called.
But Sapers says Canada’s current system already does a good job of keeping people safe from the worst, most violent offenders.
“Without naming names, if you think of the most notorious, violent offenders in Canada, they are safely behind bars and it is extremely unlikely they will ever be released.”
In terms of the numbers, Sapers says the bill previously introduced would impact about five offenders sentenced in Canada each year.
Currently, there are 125 offenders incarcerated who would fall under the criteria set out by that bill, and historically, only three or four percent of those life sentenced offenders who are released ever return to prison.
“Of that three or four percent, around one percent might be for a violent crime, and it almost never … involves another homicide.”
Sapers adds, life already means life in Canada.
“Part of that sentence may be served while you are being supervised by a parole officer in the community, but you are under sentence until you die.”
Financial costs significant
It is not cheap to keep an offender incarcerated in a federal institution.
The average cost for a male offender is $110,000 per year. It jumps to $210,000 per year for a female offender.
Sapers says the previous “Life Means Life” bill would have impacted around 125 current prisoners, and an additional 5 each year.
To add ten years to a sentence would mean an extra $1.1-million for a male inmate, and $2.1-million for a female inmate.
Metro Vancouver criminal lawyer Jason Tarnow says there are a number of problems with the Conservatives’ proposal.
Tarnow says he expects a constitutional challenge, particularly over placing release decision-making power with the Justice Minister, as opposed to the Parole Board of Canada.
“That’s a politician. In my opinion, that’s just not going to stand up to constitutional scrutiny.”
Tarnow says these important decisions shouldn’t be left in the hands of people who sway to popular opinion, but rather with all the principles of justice.
CKNW reached out to the Conservative Party. After three days of waiting for a response, we were told no one was available to comment.
Victims rights groups approve
There may be questions about this proposal, but it’s been heralded by groups representing victims of crime.
One of the loudest supporters? Sharon Rosenfeldt, whose son was killed by Clifford Olsen.