Barrister and Solicitor
Legal Writing and Research
War Crimes and Related Law (Canada)
Chapter 10 - Penalties
(a) Main and Ancillary Offences
The "main" war crimes offences (ie. genocide, crime against humanity, war crimes: see Ch.5) and the "ancillary" offences (ie. counselling, conspiracy, accessory after-the-fact and attempt: see Ch.6) are among the most serious offences known to law.
The sentence for a international crime which is NOT based on an intentional killing is a maximum of life imprisonment, with no prescribed minimum (ie. it's up to the judge). However, where the basis of such an offence is at least one "intentional killing" - then the minimum sentence is a life-sentence (ie. a mandatory life-sentence) [CAHWCA s.4(2),6(2),15(3); CCC 717(2)].
To understand the "real" meaning of "life sentence", it is essential to understand the parole provisions, discussed in s.2 below.
(b) Supervisory Offences
The sentence for a "supervisory" international crime is a maximum of life imprisonment, with no prescribed minimum [CAHWCA s.5(3),7(4); CCC 717(2)].
"Parole" is essentially early (prior to expiration of the full sentence) regulated release, granted at the discretion of a "parole board", and based on the behaviour and attitude of the prisoner.
Part of sentencing for serious offences like murder is that when the sentence is passed the court will also state the number of years of imprisonment that must pass before the offender can become eligible for parole.
There is another type of parole called "day parole" which refers to short releases during the period that the sentence is still being served (ie. before full parole - which is what is discussed here).
(b) "Normal" Parole Rules
The standard period that must be served before a prisoner becomes eligibility for parole is the lesser of: seven years or one-third of their sentence (practically in most cases this is one-third of sentence) [Corrections and Conditional Release Act, s.120].
This "normal rule" applies to all cases where the sentence is anything less that life imprisonment - AND in the specific life imprisonment situations noted below.
(c) Life Imprisonment
This sub-section applies to cases where the sentence is life imprisonment.
Where the conviction is for for a main international crime with an associated premeditated killing (ie. planned), the period of parole IN-eligibility is 25 years [CAHWCA 15(1)(a)] (ie. the entire 25 years must be served before any parole can be granted).
Where the conviction is for a main international crime with an associated unpremeditated killing (ie. not planned, but still intentional), the period of parole ineligibility is 10-25 years, to be decided by the court [CAHWCA 15(1)(c); CCC 745.4].
Where the conviction is for a main international crime with an associated unpremeditated killing (ie. not planned, but still intentional) AND there prior convictions for the same or higher international crimes OR murder, the period of parole ineligibility is 25 years [CAHWCA 15(1)(b)].
In any other case of conviction for a main international crime or a supervisory international crime [CAHWCA 15(1.1)], the period before parole eligibility is determined under the "normal rule" (above) [CAHWCA 15(1)(d)].
Judges have discretion to assign reduced periods of parole ineligibility for minors (under 18 years of age) sentenced to life imprisonment for international crimes based on premeditated and intentional killings [CAHWCA 15(2)]. These range from 5 to 10 years [CCC s.745.1, 745.3, 745.5] depending on nature of offence and age of the offender.
After a prisoner has served 15 years of their sentence they may request a "judicial review" of their period in parole ineligibility, seeking to have it reduced [CCC 745.6].