Wally Oppal has condemned the Conservative government’s recently proposed legislation that would prevent those convicted of particularly brutal first-degree murders from applying for parole ever, claiming it would put the safety of corrections officers at risk.
Under the current system, those convicted of first-degree murder are eligible to apply for parole after 25 years.
While talking to a Langara College journalism class on Mar. 6, Oppal said the proposed bill “makes no sense” for a number of reasons. Giving inmates no hope of ever leaving the prison system gives them no incentive to behave well, he said.
“Prison guards are going to be in danger because if you’re doing time for first degree murder and the judge says you’re never going to see the
light of day … what have you got to lose,” Oppal said. “You might as well stab a guard if you don’t like them or kill someone else in jail and they can’t give you anything more than life.”
Oppal said that under the current system, those who eventually do get parole after serving more than 25 years are rarely violent.
“The typical person who commits a crime of that sort is about 25 years old,” he said. “That means you’re going to be 50 years old by the time you apply for parole. There aren’t many people who are dangerous when they’re 50 years old.”
Justice Minister Peter MacKay disagreed, while talking to reporters in Ottawa.
“That means that even the worst and most violent offenders do have the opportunity to roam our streets, walk among our innocent and unsuspecting population and potentially kill again,” said MacKay.
Oppal pointed to the American justice system as an example of the problems that come along with no-parole sentencing.
“The so-called war on drugs down there has seen the American prison system proliferated with people who are in wheelchairs and walkers,” Oppal said. “There’s nowhere for them to go.”
Leaving discretion for sentence length in the hands of the judge is important, because all cases are different, Oppal said.
“You can’t have sentences where one size fits all because every offender is different and every offence is different,” he said.