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Bill would limit parole chances for certain murder convictions

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney made headlines back in January when he confirmed the prior intimations of Prime Minister Stephen Harper that new legislation designed to all but eliminate parole for certain first-degree murder convictions was forthcoming.

It now appears as if the wait will soon be over, as Harper announced at a news conference held in the Toronto area this past Wednesday that legislation will be introduced next week that will help ensure that "a life sentence in Canada will henceforth mean exactly that -- a sentence for life."

According to Harper, the new law, which won't be applied retroactively, will call for the possibility of parole to be denied to the relatively small number of people convicted of first-degree murder involving sexual assault, kidnapping, a police officer/corrections officer, terrorism or a particularly "brutal" crime.

This constitutes something of a departure from the current law, which states that those convicted of first-degree murder are to be automatically sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for at least 25 years and that, if parole is ultimately granted, it will last for the remainder of the offender's life.

Harper also indicated that in order to remain constitutionally sound, the legislation would permit those who fall under these classifications to petition the federal cabinet, as opposed to an appointed board, for their release no sooner than 35 years into their sentence.

"This is not parole," he said. "Unlike parole, decisions will not rest with an appointed board but with the federal cabinet; men and women fully accountable to their fellow citizens and to the families of the victims of these crimes."

Critics of the impending legislation have already emerged, with members of the Liberal party questioning whether it's redundant or will run afoul of the Charter.

Still others are being more direct with their criticism, calling the measure nothing but a political move designed to garner votes.

Stay tuned for updates ...

If you have been accused of any sort of violent crime, consider speaking with an experienced criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible to learn more about your rights and your options.

Sources: CBC News, "Stephen Harper proposes bill to deny parole for some murderers," Laura Payton, March 4, 2015; The Winnipeg Free Press, "Life sentence is just that under bill," Mia Rabson, March 4, 2015

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