February 27, 2015
The Honourable Peter Gordon MacKay
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
The Honourable Steven Blaney
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
I am writing on behalf of the Canadian Criminal Justice Association (CCJA). As you know, the CCJA is one ofthe longest serving non-governmental organizations of professionals and citizens interested in criminal justice in Canada, having begun its work in 1919 and having testified before Parliamentary Committees on numerous occasions. Our association represents 700 members from all across Canada.
We are writing because we have read disquieting reports in the media that the Government is currently considering introducing two significant and troubling changes to our criminal justice system: a further lengthening of parole ineligibility periods for offenders convicted of murder, and the elimination of statutory release for certain offenders. We are writing to ask that you consider the impacts of such measures.
With respect to increased periods of parole ineligibility, we would start by noting that anyone convicted of murder in Canada is already subject to a mandatory life sentence. That sentence is literally a life sentence and will never expire during the offender’s lifetime. The current life sentence doesn’t necessarily mean that a person will spend their entire life in penitentiary, although many already do. An offender can only be released by the Parole Board of Canada if, after many years of incarceration, they are deemed to be low risk to reoffend. Even in these circumstances, they will be subject to supervision, literally for the rest of their lives and potential revocation of their release if they do not abide by the conditions imposed by the Parole Board.
We believe that hope is an essential element of any life. We also believe that it is possible for a person to change, even if they have committed terrible crimes in the past. We further believe that individuals deserve a chance to demonstrate such change and show they have improved themselves to the point of no longer being a risk to the community. It is counterproductive to remove the incentive for an offender to change and improve.
We do not have access to recent statistics about the recidivism rate of persons convicted of murder who are subsequently released on parole. Such statistics will no doubt be available to you through the Correctional Service of Canada and Canada Parole Board.
However, we are reasonably certain, based on older data that is available to us, that recent statistics will also demonstrate that persons convicted of murder who are subsequently released on parole, almost never go on to commit another murder or serious violent crime. If these anticipated proposals are going to be introduced in Parliament, we ask that the statistics on the recidivism rates of offenders convicted of murder be made publicly available so that Canadians can have a full debate about the need for such measures.
With respect to the proposal to curtail statutory release for certain offenders, it is important to recall that the purpose of statutory release is to ensure that offenders who are not released on parole are nevertheless subject to an obligatory period of supervision in the community before the end of their sentence. This period of supervision is not a perk for offenders, but a mechanism to increase the chance of successful reintegration of offenders who, in any event, must be release into the community at warrant expiry. With its supervision and imposed conditions, statutory release increases the chance of successful reintegration and hence, increases public safety. Its elimination for those offenders who are most in need of such supervision is counterproductive and, in our opinion, would increase the risk to the public from those offenders.
In addition, in times of economic restraint it is essential to examine the costs if statutory release were reduced or eliminated. Some years ago the Canadian Criminal Justice Association provided an estimate of potential costs to the then Minister ofPublic Safety. While the parameters will have changed since then, it is safe to estimate that the costs of the total abolition of statutory release would easily reach one billion dollars in capital and operating expenditures once fully implemented. Even any curtailment of statutory release to a portion of offenders would have an enormous cost.
In conclusion, in our considered opinion, these measures will not increase public safety, but will only increase costs to the system and will most likely decrease the level of public safety we currently enjoy in Canada. We ask that you reconsider any plans you have to pursue this path of costly and potentially dangerous public policy.