Fairness to Victim's Act

You may’ve read the series of articles in the Globe and Mail recently about the Harper Government’s latest venture into reforming our criminal law.

It turns out that the text of the Bill they sent on to the Senate had several errors in it.  It wasn’t the one they’d passed.  It was missing some clauses meant to be included in what they’ve called the Victims Bill of Rights.

But there’s actually more cause for concern on what they’ve left in.

In the past, people serving federal sentences had the right to an annual parole hearing.  It was meant to evaluate their progress in the institution and determine whether or not it was appropriate to release them into the community subject to the supervision of a parole officer.  It wasn’t meant to determine what punishment they should receive. That was dealt with at the time of sentencing by the trial judge.

Victims’ rights advocates successfully pushed for the opportunity for victims to be allowed to attend and even speak at a parole hearing.

Then the rules were changed by the Harper Government.  For an offender convicted of a crime of violence, he or she would have to wait for 2 years before another hearing if turned down for parole.

The new law changes it again. Ostensibly to avoid the emotional distress on victims having to attend a parole hearing every two years, the unsuccessful parole applicant will have to wait for 5 years for another hearing if he’s lost twice, not 2.

Apart from the shift in focus on rehabilitation and suitability for release to what I would say is a renewed desire to simply punish, there’s a real constitutional challenge coming.

Last spring, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Harper Government’s decision to wipe out the Accelerated Parole Review program, allowing for non-violent offenders serving their first sentence to be release after serving 1/6th of their sentence, not 1/3rd, was unconstitutional. There were people who had been sentenced at a time when the program was in effect.  To remove it violated the Charter of Rights principle that no-one should be punished twice for the same offence.

Why didn’t the Harper Government take that ruling into consideration?  Didn’t their Justice Department counsel see the problem in reviewing the legislation before the Government presented the Bill?  Well, the answer may be because the Bill was put forward as a private member’s Bill and those don’t require Justice Department constitutional review before they’re put forward in the House of Commons.

I guess the Harper Government wants to keep the judiciary busy. They’re doing a very good job if that’s the objective.

Jeffrey Manishen
Jeffrey Manishen
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