COLUMN:Remove the hope

After an exhausting year of trial proceedings, Robert “Willie” Pickton was declared guilty of murdering six women who went missing from Vancouver’s seedy Downtown Eastside over a span of several years.

While Sunday’s conviction was widely expected, the final charge was stunning, as the jury could only find Pickton guilty of second-degree murder, rather than the original counts of first-degree.

The outcome of this trial revealed glaring flaws in the Criminal Code of Canada as it applies to murder.

In order to convict Pickton of first-degree murder, the jury had to find he acted in a planned and deliberate manner. The defence succeeded in throwing enough doubt on this aspect that the jurors finally had to reduce the counts to second-degree.

The great irony, of course, was that Pickton was found guilty in six deaths. It is difficult in the extreme to believe each one of those killings was unplanned and not pre-meditated. Yet, the complexity of the Criminal Code apparently left the jury that choice, a hung decision, or the unthinkable – acquittal.

Both murder charges carry a sentence of life imprisonment, however, the critical difference is eligibility for parole. Someone convicted of first-degree murder cannot apply for parole for 25 years. Second-degree provides a range of parole eligibility of between 10 and 25 years.

Given that Pickton has already spent five years in jail awaiting trial, he could technically apply for parole in the outrageously short period of just five years.

The judge was to rule on parole yesterday, prior to this writing, and was anticipated to choose the maximum amount of prison time for 58-year-old Pickton. A minimum of 25 years served means it is unlikely he will ever walk free again.

Nonetheless, the fact that such an opportunity exists for a serial killer is grossly wrong.

Canada’s lawmakers must make haste to plug the second-degree murder loophole, by either making a 25-year minimum sentence mandatory for multiple murders, or by ordering that even if a parole application can be made at the 10-year point, each sentence for each killing must be served consecutively, not concurrently, as is most common.

Second-degree murder convictions should offer absolutely no hope to monsters like Pickton, who now faces murder charges for a further 20 women.

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