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Friday, December 03, 1999

McLellan promises to double stalking sentence
Justice Ministers meet
Janice Tibbetts
Southam News

VANCOUVER - Anne McLellan, the Justice Minister, promised yesterday to double the maximum prison term to 10 years for those convicted of stalking their victims.

The move is in response to increasing criticism from provincial justice ministers who believe the federal government has failed to take a lead in setting harsher jail sentences for crimes involving violence or the threat of violence.

Provincial ministers also want dangerous-offender status introduced for those convicted of stalking offences.

Speaking in Vancouver at the annual justice ministers meeting, Ms. McLellan said: "We do believe it appropriate to increase the sentence."

The new legislation will be introduced next year.

The federal government is also expected to release guidelines today for police and Crown prosecutors on how best to enforce stalking legislation.

Proposals to strengthen stalking legislation were unanimously supported by the provinces.

Ujjal Dosanjh, British Columbia's Justice Minister, said: "This would send a message that stalking is a serious offence."

He said he was particularly pleased with the move to subject the most serious stalkers to dangerous-offender status, which brings with it the legal means to jail an offender indefinitely.

"We have to do everything we can to ensure the safety of women who are the subject of stalking by men," added Chris Axworthy, Saskatchewan's NDP Justice Minister.

Raising the age of sexual consent to 16 from 14 and eliminating the Criminal Code provision known as provocation, which allows for reduced sentences for people who kill in the heat of the moment, are two other proposals that received wide support among the provinces. Ottawa is currently reviewing both prospects.

As a result of seven provincial elections since justice ministers last met in October, 1998, Ms. McLellan now faces the added challenge of dealing with six Conservative provinces that have differing views to the Liberal federal government on law-and-order issues.

Yesterday, Ontario said it supported the elimination of a 150-year-old practice of releasing prisoners after they serve two-thirds of their sentence.

"There should be no discounting in sentencing," said Jim Flaherty, Ontario's Attorney-General. "A 25-year term should mean 25 years."

As it now stands, prisoners are virtually automatically eligible for statutory release, but they all leave penitentiaries under varying degrees of supervision, which Ottawa maintains is preferable to them being released without any follow-up scrutiny once their full sentences have been completed.

Mr. Flaherty argued that prisoners should serve an entire sentence and then should be released with conditions attached.

The provision of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which governs the federal prison system, is currently under review and several members of a Commons committee, which will release its report this fall, also oppose statutory release.

Lawrence MacAulay, the Solicitor-General, defended the program yesterday, saying it was proven to be the best method of reintegrating prisoners into society.

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