Sentencing and Parole for Persons Convicted of Murder

AuthorMary E Campbell and David Cole
Sentencing and Parole for Persons
Convicted of Murder
Mary E Campbell and David Cole
“Homicide,” “rst-degree murder,” “second-degree murder,” “man-
slaughter,” “criminal negligence causing death,” “dangerous driving
causing death” all these terms are regularly used in casual conver-
sation, public discourse, and the media with little understanding of
what they mean. Indeed, even the interpretation of ocial statistics
can be misleading; for example, Statistics Canada “homicide” statistics
usually get publicized in the media as indicating that the “murder rate
has gone up or down. In fact, homicides are relatively rare in Canada,
accounting for less than . percent of police-reported violent crimes
in . Statistics Canada reports that there were  homicide vic-
tims that calendar year, of which  were rst-degree murder and 
were second-degree murder. is is a national homicide rate of .
Sara Beattie, Jean-Denis David & Joel Roy, “Homicide in Canada ” Juristat, Statistics
Canada Catalogue no --X ( November ), online: www
n/pub/--x//article/-eng.htm. See “Survey Description” at 
for an explanation of how the data are calculated.
These f‌igures are problematic as they ref‌lect only police classif‌ications of violent
deaths. The f‌igures do not ref‌lect whether anyone is ever arrested and charged, nor do
they ref‌lect what oence an accused person may ultimately be convicted of, which is
why manslaughter numbers are signif‌icantly lower than ref‌lected in conviction rates.
184 |   
victims per , population; the rst-degree murder rate is .,
and the second-degree murder rate is .. (Compare this with our
nearest neighbour, the United States, with an overall homicide rate of
. victims per , population.)
Notwithstanding these low numbers, unlawful killings have always
been and remain matters that substantially engage the attention of
large segments of the Canadian public. e purpose of this chapter
is to explore the history and current status of sentencing for murder,
including some of the major rules and practices pertaining to release
of such oenders from imprisonment. Although the last hanging in
Canada took place on  December , it was not until  that
Parliament formally abolished “capital punishment” following a long
process of passionate and partisan debate. And there have been (and
continue to be) sporadic attempts to reinstitute the regime. Canadians
may think they are less hawkish on criminal justice than Americans,
but a  survey showed that a majority in both countries support the
death penalty as “morally right” (Canada  percent, the United States
 percent). No doubt reective of these ongoing tensions, the 
US, Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Criminal Justice Information
Services Division, “ Crime in the United States” () at Table , online: https://
See, for example, the intense media coverage of the “Humboldt Broncos” case, where
a truck driver struck a team bus carrying youthful hockey players, killing sixteen and
seriously injuring thirteen others. The driver was sentenced to eight years for numerous
counts of dangerous driving causing death and serious injury, despite his very early
guilty plea and his lack of any criminal or driving record (R v Sidhu,  SKPC ).
Although the possibility of the imposition of a life sentence exists for some of the other
types of unlawful killings, unlike sentencing for murder, that is not a mandatory penalty.
In highly exceptional circumstances, a judge may sentence an oender convicted of
lesser types of unlawful killings to avoid imposing a jail sentence.
Bill C–, An Act to amend the Criminal Code in relation to the punishment for murder
and other serious oences, st Sess, th Parl, . Various other private member’s
bills are often lodged in Parliament but are almost never debated. The exception was in
 when a bill was extensively debated before the full Parliament. The bill was defeated.
David Halton, “Abolition of Death Penalty Upheld” The National ( June ),
online: CBC Digital Archives
Bruce Anderson & David Coletto, “Canadians’ Moral Compass Set Dierently from That of
Our Neighbours to the South” ( July ), online: Abacus Data

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