Girish Mahajan (Editor)

Life imprisonment in Canada

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit

Life imprisonment in Canada is a criminal sentence for certain offences. Criminal laws allowing for life imprisonment are enacted by the Parliament of Canada and apply uniformly across the country.


Mandatory life sentence

High treason and first degree murder carry a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment with a full parole ineligibility period of 25 years. Previously, in the case of high treason or first-degree murder (where the offender has been convicted of a single murder) offenders could have their parole ineligibility period reduced to no less than 15 years under the Faint hope clause. However, this option under the Criminal Code was ended by Act of Parliament, effective as of December 2011.

Second degree murder

Second degree murder also carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment but with a parole ineligibility period of between 10 years and 25 years. Courts will determine the parole ineligibility period based on the gravity of the offence. Contrary to common belief, public safety plays a lesser role given the fact that the offender will be subject to a life sentence and the Parole Board of Canada will presumably assess the present danger posed by the offender at the time of a parole application.

There is no guarantee that parole will be granted to an offender. If the Parole Board of Canada determines that an offender still poses a risk to society, that person may be detained in prison past the parole eligibility period.

Multiple murder

The above penalties for murder apply when an offender is:

  1. convicted of a single murder
  2. convicted of multiple murders, but not sentenced to a parole ineligibility period greater than 25 years

An offender who falls into (2) above, and who committed at least 2 (first or second-degree) murders after the Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act came into effect, may be ordered by the trial judge to serve greater than 25 years of a life sentence before being eligible to apply for full parole. This provision allowing for consecutive sentencing in multiple murder cases came into force on December 2, 2011. It has been applied in several cases since that time, including Travis Baumgartner Justin Bourque, Christopher Husbands, John Paul Ostamas, and Douglas Garland sentenced to parole ineligibility terms of 40, 75, 30, 75 and 75 years, respectively.

Other offences

Offences under the Criminal Code of Canada that carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment in Canada (with a parole ineligibility period of between 7 years and 25 years) include treason, piracy, mutiny, hijacking, endangering the safety of an aircraft or an airport, endangering the safety of a ship or fixed platform, robbery, kidnapping, attempted murder, accessory after the fact to murder, conspiracy to commit murder, manslaughter, causing death by street racing, impaired driving causing death, causing death by criminal negligence, killing an unborn child in the act of birth, and aggravated sexual assault.

Under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, trafficking, exporting or production of schedule I or II substances also carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment with a parole ineligibility period of between 7 years and 25 years.

Current sentencing practices ensure that, except in the case of murder, a life sentence is rarely imposed, even when the offender is found guilty for particularly grievous offences. One common exception are cases which involve terrorism-related conspiracies.

As of 2013, 4,800 offenders were serving life sentences in Canada, though only 2,880 (around 60%) were incarcerated (the remainder being on parole). The vast majority of these offenders (about 96%) were serving their sentences for murder. "Lifers" constituted 23% of the federal offender population.

Dangerous offender

While life sentences are rare in non-murder cases, the courts may apply a dangerous offender designation in cases involving serious violent or sexual offences. Such a designation results in an indeterminate sentence with no defined term and no maximum limit, but a parole review occurs after 7 years and every 2 years after that.

Despite formal parole eligibility after seven years, full parole is rare in dangerous offender cases as this provision is reserved for the most serious offences. In violent non-murder cases, it is more likely to be used than a sentence of life imprisonment. As of 2012, nearly 500 inmates had a "Dangerous Offender" designation constituting about 3% of the federal offender population.

See: Dangerous offender designation in Canada.


Life imprisonment in Canada Wikipedia

Similar Topics