Life imprisonment in Canada

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Life imprisonment in Canada means that an offender will be under federal supervision, whether in prison or in the community, for the rest of his or her life. High treason and first degree murder carry a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment with a 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their parole ineligibility period reduced to no less than 15 years under the Faint hope clause, which has since been repealed.

Second degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment with a parole ineligibility period of between 10 years and 25 years. Courts will determine the sentence 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.

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 murders after the Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act[1] came into effect, may, after a jury recommendation, 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 has already been applied in the cases of Travis Baumgartner[2] and Justin Bourque,[3] sentenced to parole ineligibility terms of 40 and 75 years, respectively.

There is no guarantee that parole will be granted to an offender, as 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.[4]

The courts may apply a dangerous offender designation, which is in fact an indeterminate sentence: no minimum and no maximum, but a parole review occurs after 7 years and every 2 years after that. Current sentencing guidelines ensure that except in the case of murder, both a life sentence and the "dangerous offender" designation are rarely used, even when the offender is found guilty for particularly grievous 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, 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.

International comparisons[edit]

Murder, under English and Irish criminal law, carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment for any offender who, at the time of the offence, was no younger than 21 (no younger than 18 under Irish law). Life imprisonment is, under Irish law, also mandatory for treason.

Life imprisonment is almost always given, under New Zealand law, for murder convictions.


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Travis Baumgartner gets 40 years without parole for killing co-workers". CBC News. 11 September 2013. 
  3. ^ MacDonald, Michael (31 October 2014). "Justin Bourque handed harshest sentence since Canada's last execution more than 50 years ago". National Post. 
  4. ^ Criminal Code of Canada

See also[edit]

External links[edit]