Challenges and Developments: Parole in Canada
A presentation by
Executive Vice Chairperson
National Parole Board of Canada
National Conference of Parole Authorities
Challenges and Developments: Parole in Canada
I would like to tell you how pleased I am to be able to participate at this conference
on behalf of the National Parole Board of Canada (NPB). Ian D. Glen, our
Chairperson, sends his best regards. Thank you very much for inviting us.
The theme of this roundtable "Developments in Other Jurisdictions" is certainly
very important, not only in Canada but also for many countries as I learn constantly
with my own organization, the NPB but also through my involvement with the
Association of Paroling Authorities International (APAI). Changes, developments are
certainly present and/or coming.
First, let me briefly introduce the Canadian system.
In Canada, the federal government gives legislative direction to the provinces and
territories; they, in turn, are responsible for the administration of the justice. The
correctional system is both federal and provincial/territorial. It means that a sentence
of imprisonment for two years and more will be served in a federal penitentiary and
less than two years in a provincial or territorial prison.
However, the National Parole Board has jurisdiction over all adult offenders serving
time in a federal penitentiary and all offenders serving less than 2 years in the
provinces and territories that do not have their own paroling authority. Only three
provinces (British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec) have their own parole boards,
they have jurisdiction over all adult offenders sentenced to less that 2 years and
some federal offenders incarcerated in their prisons.
The National Parole Board is a federal agency of the Department of Public Safety.
As the Paroling Authority, NPB is an independent administrative tribunal. We
have our National Office in Ottawa, Ontario and offices in the five regions of Canada;
they are Atlantic, Ontario, Pacific, Prairies and Quebec.
Our mission, as part of the Criminal Justice System, is to make independent, quality
conditional releases decisions, pardon decisions and clemency recommendations,
and, in so doing, contribute to the protection of society by facilitating as appropriate,
the timely reintegration of offenders as law-abiding citizens.
In achieving its mandate, the NPB has key partnerships with various institutions of
the Criminal Justice System, its principal partner being the Correctional Service of
Canada (CSC) who provides the NPB with case information and recommendations
to assist in the decision-making and is responsible for the supervision of offenders
when released on parole and on statutory release in the community.
Decisions are made by Board members who are appointed by the Governor in
Council for specified terms. By law, we have 45 full time members including the
Chairperson, the Executive Vice-Chairperson, the five Regional Vice-Chairpersons
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and the Vice-Chairperson of the Appeal Division; they are usually appointed for 5
year-terms. We have part time members appointed for 3 year-terms and their
numbers can vary depending on the workload. All the appointments can be
renewed. We have also a team of approximately 335 knowledgeable staff of the
Public Service who assist us in delivering our mandate.
The Board is governed by two main legislations, the Corrections and Conditional
Release Act (CCRA) and the Criminal Records Act (CRA). The CCRA was
proclaimed in 1992 and was a major reform of the correctional and parole systems.
This law has been amended a few times and a review mandated by the CCRA itself,
was undertaken by a Sub-Committee of the Standing Committee on Justice and
Human Rights in the late nineties. A Report was tabled in the House of Commons in
2000 with 53 recommendations. Many were implemented but others needed
legislative changes. A bill was introduced to amend the Act 3 times but died before
adoption for different reasons. Those propositions and new ones which I will
mention later, should come back with the new government.
The main principle in the CCRA is that protection of society is the paramount
consideration and that our decisions should be based on the least restrictive
determination consistent with public safety.
I come from a country where every offender is eligible for parole. In Canada, the
majority of offenders in federal custody (4/5) are serving a sentence of fixed length,
so inevitably and eventually, they will be released. We believe that conditional
release provides a gradual and supervised integration into our communities and, in
fact, research shows it more effectively contributes to public safety. As you know,
contrary to many perceptions, parole does not shorten the sentence. It is part of the
management of the sentence.
We have 4 types of conditional release: Temporary Absences: escorted (ETA) and
unescorted (UTA); work releases; the majority are under Correctional Service of
Canada (CSC) jurisdiction, Day Parole, Full Parole and Statutory Release (at the
2/3 of the sentence by law the offender is release and under supervision until
warrant expiry unless he is under a detention order).
The criteria for granting parole are set by the CCRA : the offender will not, by re-
offending present an undue risk to society before the expiration of the sentence and
the release of the offender will contribute to the protection of society by facilitating
the reintegration of the offender as a law-abiding citizen. Of course, there are many
more provisions I could talk about but it would take to much time and I need to focus
on the theme.
New developments in Canada?
The more I was reflecting and writing about this theme, the more I was finding how
far we have come since the many years that I have been involved in this field. I had
to make some choices. So here I go.
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I think the first one that comes to my mind is the impact of the recent election of
the Conservative Party on January 23rd. One of the five key priorities identified by
this new Government is: “Protecting Canadian families and communities by
strengthening the justice system.” The Conservative Party’s Justice and Public
Safety election platform has a more “though on crime” policy vision for our country.
Here are some of the elements that would need changes to the laws:
create more mandatory minimum prisons sentences for crimes committed
with a weapon, for serious drugs offences and for crimes committed on parole
and elimination of parole after the 3rd such convictions;
end conditional sentences (house arrests) for violent crimes;
create mandatory consecutive sentences instead of concurrent;
repeal section 745.6 of our Criminal Code, called “Faint Hope Clause”, which
is a judicial review by which lifers convicted for 1st degree murder who are
eligible for parole after 25 years, may apply after serving 15 years to become
earlier eligible for parole;
replace statutory release by earned parole;
repeal the right to vote for federal offenders (need a constitutional
get tougher on sex offenders;
give more rights and services to victims by putting their rights ahead of the
offender’s rights; some of the proposed measures are creating an
Ombudsman Office, give more money for their travel to hearings, etc.
Create a Commission for Public appointments.
We know that drafters of new legislations are working hard and we expect their
introduction in the House of Commons in the coming weeks and months. Reactions
are mixed in the media and in the academic community. Many refer to other
countries experiences (i.e. USA) where such approaches failed to bring better public
safety and to research results demonstrating the absence of deterrence effects of
the mandatory minima and the huge costs that it will bring by the construction of
more prisons for example plus others socio-economic-related costs.
About the changes regarding parole, some of those measures would mean more
discretionary decisions instead of automatic releases at the 2/3 of the sentences.
Again, mixed reactions: some positive because they believe in discretionary parole
and think that it could have a positive impact on the motivation of the offender to
change, others fear that more offenders would do more time and get out at the end
of the sentence without any supervision.
About victims of crime, victim advocacy groups welcome the change of approach.
In Canada although they claimed since decades more rights for victims in the
correctional and conditional release processes, they generally support a parole
system. They recognize that important steps have been achieved but they say more
has to be done in order to have a balance approach between the rights of the
offender and the rights of the victim. The NPB has been innovative and more
inclusive in that area. Actually, victims can register with the Board and be in contact
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with our victims’ liaison officers in each of our offices. They have a right to
information about eligibility dates and about scheduled dates of hearing. They can
observe hearings, submit a written impact statement and present the statement
orally at the hearing. Victims can also request special conditions to prohibit contact
with the offender if granted release and they can obtain a copy of the decision.
Among the recent developments, I would like to mention that we see more post
sentences measures to control offenders after their warrant expiry. For example:
long term supervision ordered by the courts, applications at the Courts for
restrictions orders (section 810) imposing conditions for one year and then
reapplying, the new sex offenders registry and discussions about the possibility of
electronic monitoring for federal offenders.
A word about the membership of the Board and the creation of a Commission for
public appointments : NPB has a selection process since 1994-1995. Following
very harsh critiques from the Auditor General of Canada, changes were implemented
with a new Chairperson who had the support of the minister to proceed. I cannot
describe here the process in details but let me summarize the steps this way:
1. Advertisements in the Canada Gazette and major newspapers in the region of
Canada where the process will take place;
2. Pre-selection of the resumes based on the criteria and the need from a cross
representation of career background and of the diverse population;
3. Interview of pre-selected candidates by the members of a committee of three
persons (senior member, a Board staff and a volunteer from the community);
4. Once qualified, the candidates are on a list for 4 years; that list is sent to the
Minister of Public Safety who recommends appointments to the Government
when there is a need.
5. After appointments, each new member attend a 5 week orientation program
which is mandatory prior to any vote for a decision; new members are paired
with more experienced members who become coaches; they also have
another 20 days of continuous professional development annually; objectives
are set and annual appraisals are conducted.
Since 1994-1995, we try to improve this process constantly to ensure a membership
of quality who would do quality decisions. We think we will have the opportunity to
enhance it even more with the creation of the new Commission who will not do
selection process itself but who will approve the process and see to the
implementation of similar ones in all agencies, boards, etc. and will be an oversight
A word about the public scene, which is challenging not only in my country!
Over the last decades, with the spotlights put more and more on justice matters
more specifically on corrections and parole, with the instant informed world we live
in, with the media attention on failures rather than on successes, we do face a
challenging environment don’t we? Fear of crime is present. The perception of
reality is often distorted. Public confidence declines. Public education is lacking.
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There is little understanding of our domain by average citizens as well as by political
leaders, media and even other criminal justice agencies. Sometimes, they are our
most severe critics. We try to do more outreach to our partners of the criminal
justice system and we ask for their collaboration. We also need to expand that
collaboration to all stakeholders of our communities and with the public in general.
Some years ago, in different regions of Canada, we held successfully Citizens
Forum. We need to do more of such initiatives to win their support.
Another development that we are facing is the challenges posed by the changing
make-up of the federal offender population over the years. The majority of the
federal inmates now arrive with a conviction for violent crimes. Others are involved
with criminal gangs. We have a high number of lifers. Many offenders have mental
health issues. Offenders especially lifers are aging in prison. Many more than
before come from diverse cultural backgrounds, and/or broken families, and/or have
no support in the community. Although Aboriginal peoples represent only 2.7% of
the Canadian population, they count for 19% of the federal offender population in the
institutions! So we are trying to learn from best practices, be innovative in our
hearing process learning from the experience of our Elder-assisted hearings for
aboriginal offenders. We are always looking at research and development of new
tools to predict risk and potential of reintegration. We are also improving training and
with Ralph Serin from Carleton University, we are developing a decision model for
the training of Board members. Sharing among us more and more internationally
and learning from each other about best practices and innovative ideas, is essential
I tried to outline some of the developments and challenges we are facing which I am
sure are common to many of you and others colleagues in different countries. I hope
I did not take too much time. I would like to end by saying how convinced I am that
Parole works! People can and do change. No new developments will change this
fact. We need to unite our efforts to build better systems and build public confidence
in a more active way.
Thank you very much for your attention.
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