Bill C-55: Broadening the Scope of Dangerous Offender Laws

Bill C-55, an Act to Amend the Criminal Code (high risk offenders), the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, the Criminal Records Act, the Prisons and Reformatories Act and the Department of the Solicitor General Act, came into force on August 1, 1997. This legislation was part of the federal government's scheme to deal more severely with Canada's worst criminals. Included in the new law are significant amendments of Part XXIV of the Criminal Code. For instance, the new law repealed a provision requiring the testimony of two psychiatrists at dangerous offender application hearings; now, only one mental health expert must give evidence as to the dangerousness of an individual. The Act also created a 'long-term offender' designation that targets sex offenders and allows for a period of community supervision of up to ten years following the release of the long-term offender from custody (Solicitor General of Canada, 1997). Additionally, the Act increased the time that a dangerous offender must serve in prison before he is eligible for parole, now seven years instead of three. Dangerous offenders, under the new provisions, can not receive fixed sentences, as under the 1977 legislation. All those found to be dangerous must be given an indeterminate sentence. Another noteworthy change resulting from the Act is a provision allowing the Crown to make a dangerous offender application up to six months after an individual has been sentenced for an offence. A new judicial restraint was also introduced by the Act which is aimed at persons who are considered likely to commit a personal injury offence. Judicial restraint, as set out in section 810.2 of the Criminal Code, and allows judges to order a peace bond that includes special conditions such as electronic monitoring requirements or avoiding contact with children.

Current Dangerous Offender Provisions: Part XXIV of the Criminal Code

Section 753 details the conditions that must be met before an offender can be found a dangerous offender and the procedures to be followed for a dangerous offender application. Any person convicted of a serious personal injury offence, but not yet sentenced, who constitutes a danger to the life, safety or physical/mental well being of others may be subject to a dangerous offender application by the Crown. A 'serious personal injury offence,' as defined in section 752 of the Criminal Code, is an offence that endangers, or could potentially endanger, another person's life, safety, or psychological well being. The offence must also be subject to a sentence of ten years or more imprisonment. Section 752 also includes an enumerated list of sexual offences deemed to be serious personal injury offences. The determination of dangerousness is based on evidence, establishing at least one of the following patterns of behaviour: unrestrained behaviour that is likely to cause danger; aggressive behaviour with indifference as to its consequences; or behaviour that is "of such a brutal nature" (s.753.(1)(a)(iii)) that ordinary standards of restraint will not control it. Alternatively, a person may be a dangerous offender if the offence for which the application is being made shows a failure to control sexual impulses which is likely to result in harm to another. Section 753(4) permits the court to incarcerate dangerous and long-term offenders indeterminately. If the application for dangerous offenders status is denied, according to section 753(5), the court may either consider the application as one for long-term offender or the court may impose a determinate sentence on the offender.

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