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Parole Act and National Parole Board

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In 1959, the Parole Act (PA) was enacted and the National Parole Board was established. It was of course not the beginning of the concept of parole in Canada as early release from prison had been an integral part of our correctional system since the Ticket of Leave Act, 1899. The creation of a national parole board is however a significant human rights development in corrections because, for the first time in our history, a system of parole for all federally-sentenced offenders was to be uniformly administered by an independent decision-making tribunal.

The Ticket of Leave Act (TLA) remained virtually unchanged since its adoption 1899. As the Canadian penal system developed and the population of offenders increased, many problems with the system of leave became evident. The TLA itself, for example, contained no reference to the purpose of early release and it did not have any defined criteria for leave eligibility. Pursuant to the TLA, offenders could be granted early leave from a penitentiary before the end of their sentence at the discretion of the Governor General. In practice, wardens in each institution had the power to make parole decisions leaving the system of early release subject to abuse of discretion and arbitrariness. Moreover, the TLA did not contain any provisions to ensure surveillance of the offender on release and discretion was left with any peace officer to arrest a person on leave who was apparently "leading an idle and dissolute life
without any visible means of obtaining
an honest livelihood

In response to concerns with the Ticket of Leave system, a Committee was appointed to inquire into the principles and procedures of early release. The Fauteux Committee (1956), as it became known, was very critical of the ticket of leave system and described the TLA itself as "archaic". The Committee emphasized the concept of parole as "a logical step in the reformation and
rehabilitation [of offenders] under
appropriate legal restraint
" and argued that the creation of a national board would be a positive step towards increasing the number of offenders on parole.

The enactment of the Parole Act and the creation of the National Parole Board (NPB) in 1959 were direct responses to the recommendations of the Fauteux Committee. The Remission Services of the Department of Justice, which previously had jurisdiction over parole matters, was abolished and the new NPB was given authority to grant, deny, terminate or revoke conditional release based on stated criteria. Significant among the duties of the newly established NPB was a requirement to review the case of every offender serving a federal sentence. This provision meant that all federal offenders, not just those who applied, would be considered for conditional release at some point during their sentence. Viewing parole as a tool of rehabilitation, as urged by the Fauteux Committee, was also emphasized in the Parole Act.

However, the Parole Act was not without its own problems. Under the original Act, for example, if parolees violated their parole conditions, parole was automatically forfeited with no credit for street time. This meant that the offender was required to undergo a term of imprisonment equal to the portion of the term which remained unexpired at the time parole was granted, considerably lengthening the sentence given by the courts. Moreover, the Parole Act did not provide for any procedural protections for offenders: there was no requirement that the Board interview or meet with applicants before making decisions; reasons for the Board's decisions were not provided to offenders; and there was no right of appeal. With recommendations from various committees appointed to inquire into the parole and penal systems and with developments in the law such as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, changes were made to the Parole Act emphasizing both due process and the rights of offenders. Significantly, amendments to the criminal law in 1977 provided that a parolee whose parole was revoked would receive credit towards completion of sentence for time spent at large while on parole. Moreover, offenders were granted the right to appear before the NPB, the right to have reasons given for decisions, the right of appeal, and the right to be represented by counsel. It is also interesting to note that it was not until 1968 that the Parole Act contained an explicit statutory direction to Board members to consider whether the release of an offender constituted an undue risk to society.

In 1992, the Parole Act was replaced by the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA). One of the most significant aspects of the CCRA is an articulation of the purpose and principles of conditional release. As expressed in the CCRA, the object of conditional release is to contribute to the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society by means of decisions on the timing and conditions of release that will best facilitate the rehabilitation of offenders and their reintegration into the community as law-abiding citizens. The first principle to guide Board members in decision-making states that the protection of society is the paramount consideration in the determination of any case. The CCRA also states that parole boards must take the least restrictive determination consistent with the protection of society. Another significant aspect of the CCRA is its recognition of the concerns and rights of victims, allowing for them to be kept informed of an offender's parole status and to attend parole hearings at the discretion of NPB.