How Long is a Life Sentence in Canada?

Regina Criminal Defence Lawyers > Blog > Criminal Law > How Long is a Life Sentence in Canada?
How Long is a Life Sentence in Canada?

How long is a life sentence in Canada? If you have ever asked that question to yourself, you must be in an unfortunate and dire situation. Alternatively, perhaps a loved one is, or you might be curious simply out of interest. Whatever the reason might be, it is wise to store the necessary information in the back of your mind.

Life sentence or imprisonment is considered to be the most severe punishment for a criminal offence in the country. It is a harsh reality that many offenders cannot swallow.

Once they become a lifer, convicts who are sentenced to life imprisonment, some lose hope from the beginning itself, and others do everything in their power to make it out.

But, is it possible? Can lifers really gain their freedom?

The answer is yes.

We will discuss life sentences and different periods and understand how an inmate can leave prison life behind.

How Long is a Life Sentence in Canada?

It is normal to wonder how long is a life sentence. The term life imprisonment has different meanings in different countries. However, a life sentence in Canada is pretty simple to understand.

It is the term’s literal meaning, i.e., a convict is sentenced to prison for as long as his life expectancy.

However, there is, of course, more to the story. It is not a black and white issue. After all, the judgement is being passed on human life. And it is in our nature to change and adapt as time passes.

Therefore, life imprisonment in Canada has several levels and sub-levels, you can say. Without further ado, let us dive into the discussion about different life sentences categories.

Mandatory Life Sentences

According to the law, the maximum sentence in Canada for the worst offence is life imprisonment. Specific crimes will lead to the offender serving a life sentence(s) if committed. The only difference is the parole hearing, which depends upon the severity of the crime.

Let us break the crimes into different categories so it will be easier for you to understand.

An offender will get a mandatory life sentence without parole eligibility for 25 years when committing high treason or first-degree murder. This means the convict must serve a minimum of 25 years before being brought in front of the Parole Board of Canada to prove the lifer is suitable for parole.

The mandatory life sentence is a rule for convicts who are responsible for second-degree murder. The minimum prison time without the possibility of parole is 10 years. However, it could be anywhere between 10 to 25 years, and the decision solely lies with the Court and the direness of the crime itself.

It must be noted that the period of no parole can be extended or declined altogether if the convict doesn’t show any self-improvement changes.

Multiple Life Sentences

Multiple life sentences usually take place during murder cases, especially if the offender is responsible for numerous murders.

In such a situation, the court will convict the offender with a life sentence for each murder. For instance, if there were three murders, the convict would be given three life sentences. Of course, additional years will be added if other acts of crimes are involved, such as aggravated sexual assault.

What is the practical advantage of multiple life sentences? The critical point is the prosecutor can ensure the offender does not have the possibility of parole anytime soon.

For example, if the convict is given 25 years with no parole for one life sentence, the prosecutor will be able to make sure the convict does not get parole for 75 years due to three life sentences.

Of course, more often than not, convicts with multiple life sentences tend to never make it all the way to the end of their parole period.

Life Sentences for Minors

The rulings of parole ineligibility are different for minors, i.e., offenders under 18. Unless, of course, they are tried as adults. This only happens in cases of extremely violent crimes such as premeditated murders, mass murders, rape, and armed robbery being some of them.

Most minors are sent to juvenile centers and might be fortunate to have their case be looked upon once more as an adult. If their behaviour changed for the better, they would be successfully released permanently after parole.

At other times, the opposite happens, and they end up being in prison till the end of their lives.

What is Life without Parole?

Before understanding the phrase life without parole, you need to know the meaning of the word “parole” in the legal world.

In simple words, parole is used to define the period when a convict is released temporarily or permanently due to good behaviour. This only occurs after the convict serves the set minimum number of years sentenced by the court.

However, many offenders commit insanely heinous crimes. For example, serial killers. They might also not show remorse about their actions.

In such cases, these convicts are sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, i.e., they will never be suitable to be released from prison into society.

Call Criminal Defence Lawyer Now

The Importance of Parole

Now, some of you might be wondering what the importance of parole is. The truth is, it might literally be the most crucial aspect of being in prison. The fact that a convict might be considered or given the option of being on parole is like directly winning a lottery ticket. It is the fine line between freedom and staying in prison until one’s last breath.

When lifers are taken to the Parole Board of Canada, the inmates will be judged based on many factors. Some of them include disciplinary records, psychiatric evaluations, disciplinary records, vocational training, supervisor reports, self-help participation, education certificates, letters of support, and parole plans.

However, it is easy to lose eligibility for parole by the most straightforward action. For example, some inmates are written up or given a black mark for smoking.

Thus, inmates who really want parole must work extremely hard to discipline themselves and avoid any and everything that could put them under the category of Life without the Possibility of Parole.

The unfortunate reality is many offenders with life imprisonment are not eligible for parole. Nevertheless, offenders who are given the possibility of parole after their minimum sentence are actually not guaranteed parole.

Life Imprisonment: Other Offences

While high treason, first-degree, and second-degree murders mean life imprisonment, other severe criminal offences pertain to life sentences too. These offences could lead to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, with parole ineligibility from 7 to 25 years.

Some of these offences that could land a defendant in prison for a lifetime or multiple are as the following:

  1. Mutiny
  2. Piracy
  3. Airport Attack
  4. Aircraft Hijacking
  5. Arson (compromising human lives)
  6. Kidnapping
  7. Robbery
  8. Attempted Murder
  9. Vehicular Homicide under the influence
  10. Infanticide
  11. Aggravated sexual assault
  12. Trafficking

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some most common inquiries about how long is a life sentence in Canada. We hope the answers will clear up any lingering confusion.

Question: Is a Life Sentence 25 Years?

Answer: A life sentence for high treason and first-degree murder is a minimum of 25 years and without the possibility of parole for that period.

Question: What is the Maximum Life Sentence in Canada?

Answer: There is not a definite number for a maximum life sentence. It could be anywhere from hundreds of years to multiple life sentences.

Question: What Do 25 Years to Life Mean?

Answer: This means that an offender will only be eligible for parole after serving 25 years. The parole is not guaranteed, as it will depend upon their adaptation as an inmate.

Question: What Do 15 Years to Life Mean?

Answer: This means that an offender will only be eligible for parole after serving a minimum of 15 years. The guarantee of parole depends upon the inmate’s overall behaviour and self-changes.

Question: Can Life without Parole be Reduced?

Answer: No, life without parole does not receive any consideration, which means it will not be reversed or reduced.

Question: Is Life without Parole Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

Answer: While it is not unusual punishment, the judgement of whether it is cruel or not depends upon the intensity and severity of the offender’s crime.

Final Thoughts

In summary, the punishment of life imprisonment can seem harsh in some instances where the defendant was remorseful and willing to change for the greater good. However, at other times, depending on the horridness of the crime, a life sentence or even multiple life sentences might not seem enough.

It is a punishment with both pros and cons, but a mandatory one that is required in the legal system. Hence, we aimed to inform you of the fundamentals of life imprisonment and how long is a life sentence in Canada.