Life imprisonment in Canada
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Life imprisonment in Canada is a criminal sentence for certain offences that has an indeterminate length and is the most severe punishment for any crime in the country. 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 had 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, that option under the Criminal Code was ended by Act of Parliament, effective in December 2011.
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.
The above penalties for murder apply when an offender is convicted of a single murder. When an offender is convicted of multiple murders (either first or second-degree murder), the court has the option of imposing consecutive periods of parole ineligibility for each murder.
These provisions of the Criminal Code came into force in December 2011, and permit a trial judge, after considering any jury recommendations, to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods extending beyond 25 years. In the most extreme cases, this can result in a de facto term of life imprisonment without parole (i.e. a total parole ineligibility period extending beyond the offender's life expectancy).
These provisions have been used in several cases since 2011, with parole ineligibility periods of 35 years (Benjamin Hudon-Barbeau), 40 years (Travis Baumgartner and Alexandre Bissonnette), 50 years (Edward Downey, Emanuel Kahsai and Mark Smich), 70 years (Basil Borutski), and 75 years (Justin Bourque, John Paul Ostamas, Douglas Garland, Derek Saretzky and Dellen Millard, Mark Smich's accomplice (originally 50 years, extended to 75 after sentencing for the murder of his father).
Offences under the Criminal Code 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, aircraft hijacking, endangering the safety of an aircraft or an airport, endangering the safety of a ship or fixed platform, refusing to disperse after a riot proclamation, arson (disregard for human life), robbery, kidnapping, break and enter with intent, 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 is 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.
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. Any person released on parole from a term of life imprisonment or an indeterminate term of imprisonment must remain on parole, with conditions by the Parole Board, and are subject to electronic tagging for the remainder of their natural lives.
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 may result in an indeterminate sentence with 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 cases where a dangerous offender is serving an indeterminate sentence as this provision is reserved for individuals assessed as likely to commit further serious violent offences. In violent non-murder cases involving repeat offenders, 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. Three years later, in 2015, 622 federal offenders had a Dangerous Offender designation. Of these, 586 (or some 94%) were incarcerated (representing 3.9% of the In-Custody Population) and 36 were in the community under supervision. This supervision lasts for the remainder of the offender's life.
See: Dangerous offender designation in Canada.
- Life imprisonment, worldwide overview
- nationalpost.com: "Harper government supports private bill that could bring minimum 40-year sentences for some violent crimes", 25 Apr 2013
- G+M: "Five fundamental ways Harper has changed the justice system", 6 May 2014
- "Travis Baumgartner gets 40 years without parole for killing co-workers". CBC News. 11 September 2013.
- MacDonald, Michael (31 October 2014). "Justin Bourque handed harshest sentence since Canada's last execution more than 50 years ago". National Post.
- Brutal homeless killer gets 75 year minimum
- Douglas Garland to serve at least 75 years for horrific triple killing
- Saretzky sentenced to life, no parole for 75 years
- Criminal Code of Canada