Parole – Not a plaything for politicians


James Bezan, a former cattle rancher who serves as the Conservative Member of Parliament for the Manitoba riding of Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman (and who was once Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence), is reintroducing Bill C-266, which would prohibit certain offenders from seeking parole for a period of 40 years. (http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/bezan-reintroduces-sentencing-law-378370161.html and https://openparliament.ca/bills/42-1/C-266/?tab=major-speeches)

A news release from Mr. Bezan’s website states: “I have reintroduced The Respecting Families of Murdered and Brutalized Persons Act because I want to empower our courts with the ability to increase parole ineligibility when sentencing individuals who have been convicted of abduction, sexual assault, and murder, from the current 25 years, up to a maximum of 40 years.” (http://jamesbezan.com)

Mr. Bezan insists through his news release that “[t]he primary purpose of Bill C-266 is not to ensure that those convicted are kept behind bars; but rather, to spare the families of victims from having to attend unnecessary parole hearings every two years after the person’s 25 year sentence expires.” (http://jamesbezan.com)

 

It’s time to stop treating people involved in the criminal justice system—offenders, victims, and their families—as political pawns.

 

Unlike many other sentencing laws passed during Stephen Harper’s reign, Mr. Bezan’s proposal would be discretionary rather than mandatory, meaning that the judge/jury would have the option of imposing a longer period of time prior to parole eligibility on a case-by-case basis. Mr. Bezan states, “By empowering the courts, rather than prescribing mandatory minimums, Charter compliance is ensured.”

Despite his legal expertise (no doubt gained through his time studying livestock technology: http://ipolitics.ca/2012/11/05/conservative-mp-insists-he-didnt-want-reporter-fired/), it is somewhat unclear whether this proposal would survive a constitutional challenge, considering that 40 years is an extremely long (and rather arbitrary) time frame and that there are likely less intrusive ways of achieving the primary objective (which, again, is purportedly to “spare the families of victims from having to attend unnecessary parole hearings”). Just because something is not mandatory does not mean that it is Charter-compliant.

 

Fortunately, it appears as though Mr. Bezan has put a great deal of effort into public consultation and study with regard to his proposal. After all, on the front page of his website, right next to his news release (which bears the heading, “Bezan tables bill to Increase Parole Ineligibility for Sadistic Murderers”), there is a very obviously scientific poll which asks website visitors the following neutrally worded question: “Do you agree that the families of murdered and brutalized victims should be respected and protected from the pain that convicted murders bring back during their parole hearings?” (http://jamesbezan.com)

 

I wrote an article (http://www.londoncriminaldefence.com/let-judges-judge/) a couple of weeks ago about the Supreme Court of Canada’s rulings in regard to Harper-era “tough-on-crime” legislation. At the time, I wrote: “The takeaway from these decisions—and many others before them—is that politicians should stop targeting vulnerable, widely detested groups of people (in this case, offenders) in order to score easy political points with uninformed segments of the electorate.”

 

It’s time to stop treating people involved in the criminal justice system—offenders, victims, and their families—as political pawns.


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About Brandon Trask

Brandon Trask is a regular blog contributor and former colleague of Daniel Murphy and currently a doctoral student at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law. He was formerly a Crown Attorney in Newfoundland and Labrador. Brandon holds law degrees from the University of Manitoba and the University of Toronto.