Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Clifford Olson and a suggestion for the Canadian parole system.

So, Clifford Olson is going back to jail. I'm sure everyone is shocked -- shocked! -- that he didn't get paroled. The interesting issue, though, is something the families of his victims are saying with regard to the parole system:
Mr. Olson, a notorious publicity seeker, can now apply for a parole hearing every two years.

Outside the hearing, families of the victims acknowledged it was unlikely from the outset that Mr. Olson, 66, would be paroled, but they also said they still want legislative changes to spare them having to go through similar ordeals in future.

"What's really ludicrous about this is that this is only the beginning," Gary Rosenfeldt, whose 16-year-old stepson, Daryn, was among Mr. Olson's victims, told CTV Newsnet.

"We have to do this every two years now for the rest of Olson's life. It's not something we look forward to, I can assure you."
It's worth noting that there are two ludicrous things in play here. The first is that people who find an experience particularly unpleasant and disturbing are, nonetheless, planning to continue to attend it in the future -- and blaming "the system" for their choice to do so. If the families believe that they must be at the hearing, then fine: that's their choice. However, the idea that it's up to the legal system to alter the rules governing parole just to keep the families from exposing themselves to pain is simply silly.

The second ludicrous thing, though, is the idea that one can keep applying for parole every two years, regardless of the outcomes of one's past parole hearings. Surely if one has a history of not getting parole it should be within the parole board's power to lengthen -- within some limits, of course -- the time until the next parole.

I find disturbing, though, what our beloved Justice Minister is apparently contemplating:
Last week, Mr. Toews said Ottawa is considering changing a law that guarantees those convicted of first-degree murder the right to a hearing every two years once they have served their mandatory 25-year sentence.

He said the government is looking at options such as dismissing parole applications without a hearing in cases where the offenders have shown no sign of rehabilitation.
So, basically, without any need for public hearings, on the say-so of some "expert" in criminal rehabilitation (probably a psychologist or a psychiatrist), someone convicted of first-degree murder can be locked away forever. As said, I find this disturbing. I don't see why the board can't lengthen times between parole hearings -- that makes some sense, and the decision will be public. Moreover, the rationale for doing so would likely be the same as under Toews' suggestion, namely that the prisoner has not shown any signs of being rehabilitated. What I dislike and distrust is the possibility of giving mental health professionals even more power to incarcerate people that they already have. (The various Mental Health Acts across Canada are notorious for allowing psychologists or psychiatrists to involuntarily institutionalize and medicate (and, indeed, even electrically shock) people solely on the basis of their professional authority.)

What, really, would be the problem in allowing parole boards to decide when they're going to hear another application? That way, there can be arguments for and against, there can be expert opinions presented, there can even be an appeals process. That sort of openness is usually considered a good, particularly when it comes to serious criminal cases. So: why not here?

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