When the federal government passed the Abolition of Early Parole Act, three inmates serving sentences for first-time, non-violent offences argued that the retroactive application of such legislation infringed their right not to be “punished again” for the same offence. When they were sentenced, these individuals were eligible for day parole after just one sixth of their custodial sentences were served. The new legislation, however, extended their effective sentences far beyond what was initially imposed.
The Supreme Court concluded that the retroactive application of legislation to inmates who are already incarcerated infringes upon the right to be free from double jeopardy. The amendment to parole eligibility requirements does not offend the constitution in every case, but a universal change which removes eligibility for parole and results in a greater punishment does constitute an unconstitutional second punishment where an inmate’s individual circumstances are not taken into account:
A change that directly results in an extension of the period of incarceration without regard to the offender’s individual circumstances and without procedural safeguards in the assessment process will clearly violate s. 11(h).
Decided by the Supreme Court of Canada on March 20, 2014.
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