Backgrounder: Legislation to Repeal the "Faint Hope" Clause

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The Former Bill S-6 (called the Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act)

The repeal of the faint hope clause means that offenders who commit murder will no longer be eligible to apply for early parole. Those who serve a life sentence for first-degree murder are not eligible to apply to the Parole Board for parole until they have served at least 25 years.

Those who will serve a life sentence for second degree murder will not be eligible to apply to the Parole Board for parole until their ineligibility period is served, which will be between 10 and 25 years.

The previous regime will still apply to those offenders who are currently serving a life sentence or awaiting sentencing for murder. Even in these cases, though, the new legislation makes it more difficult for those offenders to apply to be eligible for early parole under the faint hope clause, by setting the following conditions: 

  • a judge has to be satisfied that there is a substantial likelihood that a jury would agree unanimously to reduce the applicant’s parole eligibility date;
  • after serving at least 10 years of his or her sentence, an offender has only three months in which to apply to be considered for faint hope relief;
  • if the offender does not apply within the three-month period, he or she has to wait a minimum of five years before getting another chance to apply; and
  • an offender whose application is rejected must wait at least five years before re-applying. Again, the period to re-apply would only be three months following the expiry of the five-year waiting period.

Requiring those offenders who are currently serving a life sentence or awaiting sentencing for murder to wait longer before re-applying after an initial rejection will bring more peace of mind to the families and loved ones of their victims. Under the old system, unsuccessful applicants could potentially apply a total of five times: at the end of the 15-, 17-, 19-, 21- and 23-year marks. Now, they will only be able to apply two times: once when they become eligible after serving 15 years of their life sentence, and once more five years later.

The previous regime

Under the previous legislation, offenders sentenced to life imprisonment for committing first- or second-degree murder could apply to a Chief Justice or a Superior Court Justice to have their parole eligibility period reviewed by a jury. They could apply after serving 15 years of their sentence and demonstraing to the judge only that they had a “reasonable prospect” of success in order to obtain a jury review of their Parole Eligibility Date.

The parole system

When parole is granted, the offender remains under supervision for the rest of his or her life unless parole is revoked, in which case the person would be returned to prison. Conviction for a new offence would not only be a breach of the parole conditions but could also result in the offender being returned to prison.

Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murderers

The amendments above are an important part of the Government of Canada's commitment to enhance truth in sentencing and ensure that Canadians are protected from violent criminals. On December 2, 2011, the Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act (Bill C-48) came into force. Families of victims argue that allowing criminals to serve life sentences for multiple murders concurrently devalues the lives of victims and puts Canadians at risk by allowing multiple murderers to be paroled earlier than merited, given the seriousness of their crimes. Bill C-48 puts an end to this practice, and judges are now able to impose consecutive 25-year parole ineligibility periods, one for each victim, on individuals convicted of more than one first- or second-degree murder. This means that convicted multiple murderers would need to serve a significantly longer overall period of custody before they were eligible to apply for parole.

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Department of Justice Canada
December 2011