On 11 March 2015 the Conservative government introduced Bill C-53, known as the “Life Means Life Act.”  The bill aims to make life without parole a mandatory sentence for people who commit high treason or first degree murder involving sexual assault, kidnapping, terrorism, the killing of officers, or other crimes found to be of a particularly brutal nature. Furthermore, the courts will also have the power to apply this life sentence to murderers whose crimes don’t fall within the aforementioned grounds. A prisoner would not be able to apply for an exception until she or he has served a minimum of 35 years in prison, 10 years longer than the current minimum.

This bill was supposedly made to “hold violent offenders accountable” for their actions, but it takes the level of accountability too far. The previous minimum before eligibility for parole was 25 years, which is already an extremely long period of time. Take this into consideration: originally, if you murdered someone when you were 20, you wouldn’t be able to leave jail until you were 55 at the earliest. With the proposed amendments, you would not be able to leave jail until you were 65 at best. This would mean that you’ve spent close to two-thirds of your life in prison. Even if you’re eventually released, your prospects won’t be very good: a 65 year old will find it difficult to get a job. It seems more likely that you’ll take from society via welfare rather than pay it back.

However, based on comments by Canadian Justice Minister Peter MacKay, that scenario isn’t even a likely option. According to him, a prisoner will only be released on parole in certain “circumstances of mercy”, such as the offender nearing the end of his or her life; in other words, you’ll be in jail until you’re about to die.

The changes are very draconian in nature and focus on punishment more than rehabilitation. There would be little incentive for a prisoner to see error in their ways and change; after all, it’s not like they’re getting out of jail for a significant amount of time. Once someone is convicted, there is little to no hope for them to ever rejoin society.

Furthermore, not many crimes are committed by these people on parole. According to government sources, less than 1% of males charged with 1st or 2nd degree murder/manslaughter between 1998 and 2008 were already on parole for another homicide, amounting to 1 person per year. Murder rates have also been going down, with 2013 seeing the lowest amount of murders since 1966. This shows that safety is becoming less of an issue in Canadian society, which makes the introduction of this bill even more suspicious.

All in all, this bill seems like a ploy to gain votes among those affected by violence. It addresses a shrinking issue in society, and makes it seem like a more significant issue than it actually is. More importantly, it questions what we as Canadians believe in: do we believe that people can change and atone for their mistakes, or are people forever defined by them?

Illustration: Areej Ali

Illustration: Areej Ali


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