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Jennifer Neville-Lake, right, and her husband Edward, who lost their three children and Edward's father in a horrific crash with accused drunk driver Marco Muzzo, speak to the media at the courthouse in Newmarket, Ont., in 2016.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Marco Muzzo is now responsible for the death of five people, even if the law only recognizes his culpability for four. Edward Lake, whose three children and father-in-law were killed when Mr. Muzzo drunkenly drove his Jeep through a stop sign at a Vaughan, Ont., intersection in 2015, died by suicide this past week. The children’s mother, Jennifer Neville-Lake, posted the news on social media, writing that Mr. Lake “has joined our kids so they can play together, forever.”

Mr. Muzzo’s life has changed a lot over the last seven years. He went from a soon-to-be-married wealthy partier (he admitted to driving impaired a “handful” of times in the past) to a prison inmate sentenced to 10 years, to a convict on day parole, to what he is now: a full parolee who will eventually be permitted to drive again and live virtually without restriction. His life has an arc, and his time in prison will eventually be a mere ripple in his life’s trajectory, whereas the lives of his victims – both living and dead – stopped on Sept. 27, 2015. For the last seven years, Ms. Neville-Lake has posted nearly daily on her social media accounts, recalling the littlest details about all of her children, who will forever be aged 2, 5 and 9.

The Neville-Lake family will never get justice. Yes, Mr. Muzzo’s sentence was, at the time, the toughest handed out for a first-time offender in Canada (a New Brunswick man convicted of drunk driving causing death was sentenced to 10 years in 2013, but he had four previous impaired driving convictions). But Mr. Muzzo was out on parole after serving about half of his sentence (he would have been out earlier had he not blown an earlier parole board hearing), and thus spent just over a year behind bars for each life he took. Few people would look at that result and consider it fair or proportional to the suffering he has inflicted on this family.

Opinion from 2020: Marco Muzzo already destroyed a family. The parole process compounds that tragedy

A recent Supreme Court of Canada decision touched on this idea of the severity of punishment as a value judgment on a victim’s life. In declaring consecutive periods of parole ineligibility unconstitutional, Chief Justice Richard Wagner wrote that the Court’s decision, which now means that mass killers must be eligible for parole after 25 years regardless of how many people they kill, “must not be seen as devaluing the life of each innocent victim.”

“The imposition of excessive sentences that fulfill no function,” he wrote, “does nothing more than bring the administration of justice into disrepute and undermine public confidence in the rationality and fairness of the criminal justice system.”

The Court’s reasoning did not consider the inverse, however: that the imposition of sentences that do not reflect the severity or breadth of the offence may bring the administration of justice into disrepute and undermine public confidence in the rationality and fairness of the criminal justice system.

After all, if a mass killer who, for example, drove a van down a busy Toronto street and killed 10 people would get the same sentence had he killed five or 15 people (making victim impact statements irrelevant since his outcome is predetermined) why would the public maintain confidence in the fairness of the criminal justice system? Justice Wagner may urge Canadians not to see the universal cap on parole ineligibility as a value judgement on victims’ lives, but the average Canadian who sees that a man who murdered six people in a mosque will be eligible for parole just as quickly as someone guilty of one count of first-degree murder surely can’t help but think that something is amiss with the criminal justice system in Canada.

Opinion: The Supreme Court’s ruling to end the death-in-prison penalty isn’t about the offender – it’s about our own moral code

This all relates to Marco Muzzo in the way this country doles out punishment for deadly crimes, particularly where there are multiple victims. Mr. Muzzo was eligible for parole less than three years after he was sentenced, barely giving the family time to grieve after the conclusion of the trial before drawing it back into the justice system. Loved ones can’t possibly heal when they are forced to confront the person who destroyed their lives every couple of years, and when the value of an individual victim’s life seems diluted in the sentencing for multiple casualty crimes.

Of course, where judges are given discretion, they must consider factors beyond simple retribution, including the deterrent effect of punishment, the potential for rehabilitation, and so on. And perhaps Mr. Muzzo was ready to reintegrate into society and try to make something of his life when he was released from prison last year. But the prison he inflicted on his victims, both living and not, will not expire after some arbitrary time. Perhaps that’s worth more than five years, and a temporary ban on driving.

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