Inmates Sue Ottawa Over Extended Prison Sentences

Update:

Front door to the Supreme Court of Canada's courtroom. In the decision, Attorney General of Canada, et al. v. Christopher John Whaling, et al, the Supreme Court found that the Abolition of Early Parole Act ruled that the retroactive application of the new law against a sentenced offender amounted to being punished a second time for the same offence, a contravention of Section 11(h) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Front door to the Supreme Court of Canada’s courtroom. In the decision, Attorney General of Canada, et al. v. Christopher John Whaling, et al, the Supreme Court found that the Abolition of Early Parole Act contravened Section 11(h) of the Charter as the retroactive application of the new law against a sentenced offender, amounted to being punished a second time for the same offence; double jeopardy. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

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Federal inmates across the country are joining forces in twin class-action claims against the federal government over a 2011 law that prolonged prison time for non-violent offenders by abolishing early parole provisions.

As many as 5,000 inmates could eventually join a group seeking unspecified damages for Charter-infringing extensions to their incarceration, according to Stephan Thliveris, one of the three lawyers who drafted the claims filed in Federal Court in Vancouver on Tuesday.

At issue is the Abolition of Early Parole Act, a key part of the Harper Conservatives’ crime-fighting agenda that was passed three days before the 2011 election was called. It eliminated the practice known as accelerated parole, which granted first-time, non-violent offenders the opportunity for parole after serving one-sixth of their sentence.

The Supreme Court of Canada. When the respondents began serving sentences in federal penitentiaries, the accelerated parole release provisions of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, S.C. 1992, c. 20, entitled them to early parole after serving one sixth of their sentences, without hearings before the Parole Board. Those provisions were repealed by the Abolition of Early Parole Act, S.C. 2011, c. 11, after each respondent had been sentenced. Section 10(1) of that Act applies the Act to inmates not released on parole as of March 28, 2011. The respondents brought constitutional challenges. The trial judge and the Court of Appeal held that the transitional provision breaches the right guaranteed by s. 11(h) of the Charter not to be punished again for an offence.
The Supreme Court of Canada.
When the respondents began serving sentences in federal penitentiaries, the accelerated parole release provisions of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, S.C. 1992, c. 20, entitled them to early parole after serving one sixth of their sentences, without hearings before the Parole Board. Those provisions were repealed by the Abolition of Early Parole Act, S.C. 2011, c. 11, after each respondent had been sentenced. Section 10(1) of that Act applies the Act to inmates not released on parole as of March 28, 2011. The respondents brought constitutional challenges. The trial judge and the Court of Appeal held that the transitional provision breaches the right guaranteed by s. 11(h) of the Charter not to be punished again for an offence. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

Despite repeated warnings that it would be unconstitutional, the government stipulated that the measure would apply retroactively, meaning all inmates eligible for accelerated parole had their early release dates delayed.

Three years later, a unanimous Supreme Court of Canada decision ruled that the retroactive application of the new law against a sentenced offender amounted to being punished a second time for the same offence, a contravention of Section 11(h) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Supreme Court of Canada. Three years after the Abolition of Early Parole Act passed, a unanimous Supreme Court of Canada decision ruled that the retroactive application of the new law against a sentenced offender amounted to being punished a second time for the same offence, a contravention of Section 11(h) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Supreme Court of Canada.
Three years after the Abolition of Early Parole Act passed, a unanimous Supreme Court of Canada decision ruled that the retroactive application of the new law against a sentenced offender amounted to being punished a second time for the same offence, a contravention of Section 11(h) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

One of the claims filed on Tuesday addresses inmates who were serving sentences in prison when their early parole dates were lengthened by as many as 35 months. Lead counsel Tonia Grace writes in the claim that Ottawa only extended the law retroactively to quash any accelerated parole eligibility for Earl Jones, the high-profile Montreal fraudster.

“It appears they wanted to avoid public outrage about Earl Jones,” Mr. Thliveris said. “They sold our clients down the river for votes. It was easy because a lot of clients were already in the river.”

The second claim deals with offenders who had been charged but not convicted. Their issues were not addressed in the Supreme Court decision, but several lower courts have ruled in their favour, citing Section 11(i) of the Charter stating that if the law is altered during the time between an offender committing a crime and the time of sentencing, they can opt for the lesser of the two punishments.

Harper's "Abolition of Early Parole Act" passed, despite repeated warnings that it would be unconstitutional, the government stipulated that the measure would apply retroactively, meaning all inmates eligible for accelerated parole had their early release dates delayed. The Courts ruled it was unconstitutional. photo by fightyourtickets.ca
Harper’s “Abolition of Early Parole Act” passed, despite repeated warnings that it would be unconstitutional. The government stipulated that the measure would apply retroactively, meaning all inmates eligible for accelerated parole had their early release dates delayed. The Courts ruled it was indeed unconstitutional.

The federal Justice Minister’s office was unable to respond to queries about the class-action late Friday, but the Prime Minister has pledged to review all criminal-justice legislation passed under the Conservatives.

“The timeline on this will ultimately depend on the instructions from the new government,” Mr. Thliveris said, “which hopefully is a friendlier government than Mr. Harper’s regime.”

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