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Conservative Justice Minister Rob Nicholson speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa June 8, 2009. (Adrian Wyld)
Conservative Justice Minister Rob Nicholson speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa June 8, 2009. (Adrian Wyld)

Tories move to eliminate faint-hope clause from Criminal Code Add to ...

The chance to apply for early parole after serving 15 years behind bars would be denied to convicted murderers under a law introduced in Parliament Friday.

The legislation follows a Conservative election promise to end what is known as the "faint hope" clause in the Criminal Code - a provision that has been a source of controversy since it came into effect with the abolition of capital punishment in 1976.

Ed Teague, whose 18-year-old daughter Jennifer disappeared off an Ottawa street in the early morning of Sept. 8, 2008, applauded the move.

Nine months after Ms. Teague was killed, Kevin Davis, 26, pleaded guilty to strangling the teen and leaving her naked body near a trail on the outskirts of the city. Because the law is not retroactive, it will not prevent Mr. Davis from applying for release under the faint-hope clause. But it will make it more difficult, Mr. Teague said.

"My sons will have to end up going to those parole hearings," he said. "I don't want them to have to go through that on a regular two-year basis like has happened in the past."

The new law would strip the right to apply for early release from people who are convicted of first-degree murder, which carries a minimum 25-year sentence, and second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of 10 to 25 years.

"Today, we are putting an end to faint-hope reviews and saying no to early parole for murderers," Justice Minister Rob Nicholson told a news conference. "We are also sparing families the pain of attending repeated parole-eligibility hearings and having to relive these unspeakable tragedies over and over again."

The legislation would affect only those who commit murder on or after the day the law comes into effect.

But people who have already been charged with murder as of that date, or those who have been convicted and are serving their sentences, would have just three months to apply for early release after they have served 15 years of their sentence. The door would then slam shut for five years if they miss the deadline.

Unsuccessful applicants also would have to wait five years before trying again - currently they must wait just two. And no one could apply unless a judge determined that there was a "substantial likelihood" that a jury would move up their parole-eligibility date.

The legislation is just the latest move in the Conservative government's "tough on crime" agenda. It comes weeks after the tabling of another bill that would stop judges from routinely giving offenders double the credit for time served before their conviction.

Victims' rights advocates have long pushed for the repeal of the clause that has allowed reduced sentences for people like Colin Thatcher, a Saskatchewan politician who murdered his wife in 1983.

But Craig Jones, the executive director of the John Howard Society in Kingston, Ont., said the new law will do nothing to make Canada's streets safer. Only prevention will do that, he said.

And William Trudell, chair of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers, said no offender can be released from prison under faint-hope provisions unless a jury agrees it is appropriate.

"It's this erosion of discretion in the system moving towards rigidity that is really changing the criminal justice system as we know it," he said.

Mr. Trudell said he is frustrated that no party is willing to stand up and question the Conservative crime initiatives and he hopes the Senate will take a hard look at these bills. "Every situation," he said, "has got a human story to it and you have got to allow some discretion and weighing of circumstances."

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