What is a “Life Sentence” in Canada?

A homicide in Canada must include culpability to be considered murder. That means, the courts must believe the killer is deserving of blame. The fact that the courts must decide culpability, or blameworthiness, opens the legal charge of murder, to the influence of homophobia.

Currently, murder in Canada is split into first degree and second degree. First degree murder includes:
• contracted murder
• when the victim is a police officer, sheriff or other person associated with upholding the law
• where there is hijacking, sexual assault or kidnapping
• it involves criminal harassment, terrorist activity, organized crime, or intimidation

All murder that is not first degree murder, is second degree murder.

Murder may be reduced to manslaughter if the person who committed the act did so in the heat of passion caused by sudden provocation.

Again, homophobia in the courts can play a big role in reducing a murder charge to manslaughter. Until the decriminalization of homosexuality on June 27, 1969, being gay was often granted as a provocation, allowing a murder charge to be reduced. Now, it’s frequently used by defense, but less often is it accepted by the judge or jury.

An example of how complex the charges can be is highlighted in the trial of the 1977 murder of Neil Wilkinson . Wilkinson was beaten to death, and his killer , James Allan Walker, was arrested and charged with first degree murder. Walker offered to plead guilty to manslaughter, but the Crown rejected the plea and the case went to trial. During the trial, Walker said Wilkinson had fantasies of pedophilia and he was therefore provoked to kill him. Walker was found guilty of second-degree murder by a jury.

Throughout the years, penalties for homicide have changed. However, it is important to note that no matter how many victims a convicted murderer might have, a murderer can only have one life sentence. For example, Bruce McArthur pleaded guilty to killing 8 men, but was given just one life sentence, not 8 life sentences.

From the excellent CBC news article “Here’s what judges will consider when sentencing McArthur and Bissonnette” :

“… A concurrent sentence means multiple sentences will be served at the same time. In general, this is the rule for multiple convictions stemming from the same event. But the judge does always have discretion.

Consecutive sentences are served one after the other. Sentences for crimes committed on different occasions can be ordered to be served consecutively. ..

In the Bruce McArthur murder case (http://murdervillage.com/tag/bruce-mcarthur/) — a sentence will be handed down Friday in Toronto — McArthur pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder. Each count carries a mandatory life sentence. A judge cannot sentence someone to more than one life sentence. So McArthur will receive one life sentence.

What the judge can decide is whether the periods of parole eligibility will also be concurrent or consecutive…

McArthur… will serve one life sentence no matter what. But the judge is scheduled to decide Friday whether to allow him to request parole in 25 years or add more periods of ineligibility…”

To read the full article, please visit the CBC

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