How Long is a Life Sentence in Canada? – What Does it Mean?

When a person is convicted of a serious crime, one of the most daunting questions that arises is: how long will they be behind bars? This is particularly true when it comes to murder cases, where the gravity of the offense demands a strict punishment. In Canada, a conviction for murder carries the possibility of a life sentence, but what does that actually mean? How long is a life sentence in Canada? Understanding the duration of a life sentence and the factors that impact it is essential for comprehending the legal system and the consequences of criminal actions. In this article, we will delve into the murder sentencing guidelines in Canada and shed light on how long a life sentence typically lasts.

Understanding Life Imprisonment in Canada

In Canada, life imprisonment is the toughest penalty for severe crimes. It’s for crimes like first-degree murder and serious sexual assaults. Those found guilty may never get out.

Mandatory Life Sentences

First-degree murder and high treason come with a must life in prison. But, for parole, there’s a wait of 25 years. Second-degree murder has similar rules, but the 25-year wait can be shorter.

Parole Eligibility and Life Sentences

For those with life sentences, when they can ask for parole varies. This is based on the seriousness of their crime. It’s up to the Parole Board of Canada to decide.

Parole Ineligibility Periods for Life Sentences

The life sentence’s length in Canada depends on how long someone must wait before they can apply for parole. This is known as the period of parole ineligibility. Offenders don’t always get parole granted even if they’re eligible to apply.

First-Degree Murder

First-degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence. Offenders need to wait 25 years before they can ask for parole. This rule stands for those found guilty of this crime.

Second-Degree Murder

For second-degree murder, the wait time for parole eligibility is shorter but still strict. It can fall between 10 to 25 years. What exact period an offender must wait is decided by the judge. They consider the case’s details and the severity of the crime.

The Criminal Code of Canada sets these guidelines to make sure parole waits for parole ineligibility periods canada, life sentence first-degree murder, and life sentence second-degree murder fit the crime’s minimum parole ineligibility and maximum parole ineligibility. These rules are in the criminal code canada murder sentences.

Parole Ineligibility Periods

Consecutive Life Sentences and Multiple Murders

In Canada, if someone is found guilty of multiple murders, they may get consecutive life sentences. This means they serve one life sentence for each murder case. They can’t apply for parole until they’ve finished serving the first sentence. This way, the time before they can look for parole gets longer if they committed more than one murder.

In special cases, this practice can lead to something known as de facto life imprisonment without parole. This happens when the total time they must spend in jail, not being able to ask for parole, is longer than their expected life. So, it’s like they won’t ever be able to get parole.

Impact of the Supreme Court Ruling in R v Bissonnette

Recently, the Supreme Court of Canada decided about this with R v Bissonnette. They said this way of sentencing was too harsh and went against human rights. The court decided that everyone, even if they’ve done more than one murder, should at least be able to try for parole after 25 years.

So, because of this ruling, consecutive life sentences will now be managed differently. New laws under the Criminal Code have been put in place. These changes give offenders a chance to apply for parole within a fair amount of time, despite the terrible crimes they committed.

consecutive life sentences canada

How Long is a Life Sentence in Canada?

In Canada, a life sentence keeps an offender in prison forever. The time they serve, though, depends on when they can first apply for parole. First-degree murder requires 25 years before applying. Second-degree murder needs between 10 and 25 years to pass before applying, which a judge decides.

Eligibility for Temporary Absences, Work Release, and Day Parole

Life sentence prisoners in Canada might get temporary absences, work release, or day parole. But they must follow strict rules and get approval from the Parole Board of Canada. These programs help them get back into society while being watched closely.

Calculating Parole Eligibility Dates

Figuring out when someone can apply for parole after a life sentence is not simple. Many things are considered, like when someone is sentenced and any behavior while serving the sentence. The Parole Board of Canada looks at everything before deciding if someone is ready for parole.

parole eligibility

Life Sentences for Non-Murder Offenses

In Canada, life sentences aren’t just for murder. They can apply to serious non-murder crimes too. For example, aggravated sexual assault and terrorist crimes can lead to life in prison. Trafficking drugs, like those on Schedule I or II, is another reason for a possible life sentence under the law.

Aggravated Sexual Assault

For aggravated sexual assault, a life sentence is possible. It’s for those who keep posing a serious threat to others’ safety. The court looks at many things to decide this, like how serious the attack was and if the person might change.

Terrorism-Related Conspiracies

Life sentences also apply to terrorism-related conspiracies in Canada. These crimes threaten national safety and security. Because of this serious risk, life in prison is the punishment to protect everyone from the offender’s future actions.

The decision for a life sentence looks at if the person is still a danger. This is true for both sexual assault and terrorist charges. Canadian laws make sure that really serious non-murder crimes are treated with the strictest penalties.

life sentences non-murder offenses canada

The “Faint Hope Clause”

The “Faint Hope Clause,” or Section 745.6 of the Criminal Code of Canada, is a unique part of the Canadian legal system. It deals with life imprisonment. This allows some inmates serving life sentences to apply for a parole review early. It gives the chance to review if they have shown good behavior and progress.

Since its start in 1976, the Faint Hope Clause aims to encourage prisoners to reform. It is part of efforts to improve behavior behind bars. To have a chance at the review, at least 15 years of the life sentence must be served. However, those who committed serious crimes like multiple murders usually can’t apply. Getting approval for the review isn’t automatic. The request must meet strict rules set by the law.

Eligibility Criteria for the Faint Hope Clause Exceptions
  • Offender must have served at least 15 years of their life sentence
  • Offender must demonstrate good behavior and progress in rehabilitation
  • Application for review must be approved by the appropriate authorities
  • Offenders convicted of multiple murders are typically excluded
  • Certain high-risk or dangerous offenders may also be ineligible

The Faint Hope Clause offers a chance for life sentence prisoners to change their fate. It’s an opportunity to show they’ve changed and could be ready for life outside. But, not everyone who applies will get a chance. The process is tough and selective.

Dangerous Offender Designations

In Canada, life sentences for non-murder crimes are not common. But, the system can label certain offenders as ‘dangerous’. This label is given for serious violent or sexual crimes they’ve committed. It can lead to what’s called an indeterminate sentence. This means it’s like a life sentence without knowing when they can seek parole.

Indeterminate Sentences

For those labeled as dangerous offenders, they face parole reviews every 7 years. Yet, getting full parole is not easy for them. This is because it’s only given to those unlikely to commit serious violent crimes again. By 2015, over 600 federal prisoners were given this designation. They made up about 4% of the prisoner population.

Parole Reviews for Dangerous Offenders

The goal of the dangerous offender designation and the indeterminate sentences is public safety. It aims to keep high-risk offenders behind bars as necessary. These offenders are reviewed for parole regularly. They’re evaluated by the Parole Board of Canada. The board looks at their risk levels and the chances of safely reintegrating them into society.

Youth Sentencing and Life Imprisonment

In Canada, young offenders have a different system from adults. This includes those aged 12 to 17. The Youth Criminal Justice Act means young people found guilty of first-degree murder might get a 10-year maximum sentence. But, if their case is moved to adult court, things change.

Parole Ineligibility Periods for Youth Sentenced as Adults

If a 16 or 17-year-old is found guilty of first-degree murder as an adult, they can’t apply for parole for 10 years. For those aged 14 or 15, and also sentenced as adults for first-degree murder, the waiting period is shorter, between 5 to 7 years. In cases of second-degree murder, 16 or 17-year-olds face a 7-year wait, while those aged 14 or 15 must wait 5 to 7 years.

The choice to treat a youth like an adult in court is a serious one. Usually, the court leans towards a youth sentence. It’s up to the Crown to show why an adult sentence makes more sense. This includes looking at how serious the crime was, the youth’s past legal troubles, and if they might change their ways.


In Canada, life imprisonment is for severe crimes like first and second-degree murder. A life sentence may allow for parole after 10 to 25 years. This change depends on the case. Those with life sentences can also get short breaks, work release, or day parole, if the Parole Board of Canada agrees.

The Canadian criminal justice system handles even stricter cases with consecutive life sentences and dangerous offender designations. It also looks at youth offenders differently. It’s important to understand the laws around life sentences in Canada. This knowledge helps in fair sentencing and keeps the public safe while helping criminals to change.

As the system changes, the rules for life sentences make sure justice is served. They also aim to protect the public and help offenders reform. Knowing about life sentences in Canada is key for anyone working in law or policy. Even the public can make the system better by being well-informed.


1. What is a life sentence in Canada?

In Canada, a life sentence keeps the offender in prison forever. However, they might be able to apply for parole after 10 to 25 years. This depends on the crime they committed.

2. What offences can result in a life sentence in Canada?

Some serious crimes lead to a life sentence. This includes first and second-degree murder, certain manslaughters, and more. Even dangerous offender designations can lead to life in prison.

3. What are the mandatory life sentences in Canada?

First-degree murder and high treason have a mandatory life sentence. For these crimes, parole eligibility is after 25 years. For second-degree murder, it’s after 10 to 25 years, decided by the judge.

4. How does parole eligibility work for life sentences in Canada?

Parole eligibility for life sentences depends on the crime. For first-degree murder, you must wait 25 years. In the case of second-degree murder, it’s up to the judge to set a period between 10 and 25 years.

5. Can offenders serve consecutive life sentences in Canada?

Yes, Canada allows for consecutive life sentences if someone is found guilty of murdering more than one person. But, a Supreme Court of Canada decision found this practice to be cruel and unusual.

6. Can life sentences be imposed for non-murder offences in Canada?

Yes, Canada could give life sentences for non-murder crimes like serious sexual assault or terrorism planning under certain circumstances.

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