COVER

Is a ‘faint hope7 too much?

A controversial federal parole law comes under attack

MARY NEMETH March 25 1996
COVER

Is a ‘faint hope7 too much?

A controversial federal parole law comes under attack

MARY NEMETH March 25 1996

Is a ‘faint hope7 too much?

COVER

A controversial federal parole law comes under attack

For nearly 14 years, Darlene Boyd believed that the man convicted in the brutal murder of her teenage daughter was serving the harshest possible sentence allowed under Canadian lawlife imprisonment with no eligibility for parole for 25 years. It was not until a newspaper reporter called her last September,

she says, that she heard of Section 745, a law that allows firstand second-degree murderers who have served 15 years of their life sentences to apply for a reduction in their parole eligibility dates. That means that James Peters, who was convicted in the killings of Laurie Boyd in 1982 and another young woman in southern Alberta the year before, can apply for a review next February. “I don’t think our family could go through another hearing,” Boyd said last week at her home near Okotoks, just south of Calgary. Adamant that Peters should not have the right to such a review, Boyd arranged to meet with federal Justice Minister Allan Rock in Vancouver last January and then organized a rally in Okotoks that attracted some 600 people and inspired a campaign by The Calgary Sun newspaper—more than 30,000 people sent in Sun coupons protesting the legislation.

It is all part of a rising tide of popular pressure to repeal what has until recently been a little-known section of the Criminal Code. Last week, in fact, Liberal backbencher John Nunziata of Ontario introduced—for the third time—a private member’s bill calling for the re-

peal of Section 745. The bills he introduced in 1991 and again in 1994 died on the order paper when those Parliaments prorogued—though the last time he made it past second reading in the House of Commons. And now the justice minister is wading into the fray. Rock has said he hopes to present changes to cabinet within a month, although he told Maclean’s last week that rather than repeal Section 745, he wants to amend it. Alternatives, Rock said, include eliminating reviews for multiple killers and allowing trial judges to determine

upon sentencing whether a killer should be entitled to a review 15 years later. Part of the pressure on Rock stems from timing: notorious child murderer Clifford Olson will become eligible for a review in August. “And of course that just terrifies everybody, that he even has the right to ask for early parole,” says Sharon Rosenfeldt, president of the Ottawabased Victims of Violence group. Her own son,

Daryn, was one of Olson’s 11 victims. “I can only hope to God that it will be repealed before August,”

Rosenfeldt says, “so that our family and the other 10 families won’t have to go through this whole nightmare again.”

Many victims’ rights advocates insist that it is not enough to tinker with Section 745—they want it eliminated. The measure became law in 1976, at the time when Parliament abolished capital punishment.

Dubbed the faint-hope clause, it gave an offender the right to apply for a judicial review before a jury that considers factors including the inmate’s character,

conduct in prison and the nature of the offence. Only two-thirds of the jury is required to recommend a reduction in eligibility.

Defenders of Section 745 point out that juries cannot reduce a life sentence—only parole eligibility. And they argue that the measure is important as an incentive for rehabilitation. Paul Rosen, a Toronto defence lawyer who has successfully represented three inmates on Section 745 applications, says that he is sympathetic to victims’ families and recognizes that it is sometimes difficult to reconcile the rights of victims and offenders. He points out that judges have discre-

tion to allow for victim impact evidence at judicial reviews. (In fact, under a new law, jurors will soon be directed to take into account information provided by victims.) But Rosen also insists that there are some people in penitentiaries who, after 15 years, are no longer a compelling threat to society—adding that he trusts the “good common sense of the jurors.” If offenders “have really made dramatic and substantial reforms in their lifestyle and their attitudes and their moral code,” Rosen argues, “then I think it does promote justice to al-

low them to make application after 15 years. In fact, it provides some motivation.”

Opponents of Section 745 contend that the clause offers more than just faint hope. The first judicial review occurred in 1987. And of the 63 reviews completed by the end of last year, 50—or 79 per cent—resulted in some reduction in parole eligibility. Of those, 31 inmates were on full or day parole or some other temporary absence program. No one released subsequent to a Section 745 hearing has since been convicted of a serious personal injury offence, though one offender was convicted of armed robbery and had his parole revoked. Those who oppose the repeal of Section 745 point out that less than half of eligible offenders apply for judicial reviews. That could suggest, they say, that inmates likely recognize that unless they can offer substantial evidence of rehabilitation, their chances for success are minimal.

Of course, no one is saying that numbers can speak to the pain of victims’ families. Darlene Boyd

says she realizes that at some point her daughter’s killer will probably be eligible for parole. “But at least 25 years is what they told us,” she says. She is adamant that her family not have to go through a judicial review. “We’re talking about first-degree heinous murder,” she says, adding that she is not motivated by vengeance. Instead, she says, “I thought I owed it to Laurie—to talk and make people aware of this before other people get hurt.”

MARY NEMETH

Okotoks