A Conservative MP is hoping to increase the amount of time convicted killers must spend behind bars before they can apply for parole, just as serial killer Bruce McArthur awaits his sentence.
James Bezan’s private member’s bill would give judges and juries the ability to increase parole ineligibility for certain convicted killers to 40 years, up from the current 25 years, if their crimes involved kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering a person in Canada.
McArthur has pleaded guilty to killing eight men, and many of the murders had sexual elements.
Bezan says he wants to ease the impact on victims’ families when serious offenders, who often do not get paroled, apply anyway and get the hearings they’re entitled to when they do.
“If these monsters are allowed access to these parole-board hearings, all they do is re-victimize the families,” Bezan said. “None of these sadists ever get full parole … but they still have access to go out there and traumatize the families, who have to go to the parole-board hearings, read their victim-impact statements to ensure these people never get released.”
McArthur has pleaded guilty to eight serial murders in Toronto, most of them with sexual elements.
A first-degree murder conviction comes with a mandatory life sentence, with no right even to apply for parole for 25 years. But if, as often happens, a judge orders someone with multiple convictions to serve his or her sentences concurrently instead of consecutively, he or she becomes eligible to apply at the 25-year mark no matter how many people he or she killed or what other crimes he or she committed.
Bezan cited the gruesome case of serial killer Clifford Olson, who pleaded guilty to murdering 11 children in 1982. He was sentenced to 11 concurrent life sentences, but applied for early parole after 15 years (the threshold at the time) and, when this was denied, applied at every future opportunity, causing the families of his victims reoccurring grief.
Giving judges the option of telling particular offenders they can’t apply for parole for 40 years would reduce the chances of that happening.
“It’s not a mandatory minimum (sentence), it’s not something that is dictated to the courts, the judge still has the discretion to level the parole-ineligibility period at the time of sentencing,” Bezan said.
In cases of multiple counts of first-degree murder, judges can choose consecutive life sentences, which would increase the years of parole ineligibility for convicted murderers. However, in cases like those of Michael Rafferty and Terri-Lynne McClintic, who were given life sentences involving the death of just one victim – eight-year-old Tori Stafford, who was kidnapped and sexually assaulted before her death – they will be eligible to apply for parole as early as 2023, Bezan said.
Two previous, almost identical bills introduced before the 2015 federal election did not make it through the often onerous legislative process. The first was taken off Parliament’s agenda when Bezan was promoted to the role of parliamentary secretary in the Conservative government, which made him ineligible to put forward a private member’s bill. The second made it through the committee stage without amendments, but did not get a final vote before the House of Commons dissolved for the 2015 election.
The Liberals, who were in opposition at the time, voted in support of the last version of this bill. Bezan says he now hopes the party in government will help pass his legislation before June, when MPs will leave for the summer and turn their attention to this fall’s federal election.
Earlier this week, Karen McCrimmon, parliamentary secretary to the minister of public safety, said the proposed changes “present one avenue” for helping victims in these cases, and that government would closely monitor the views of other MPs as the bill continues to be debated.