How Long is a Life Sentence in Canada | (2023)

  • Posted on: 11 Oct, 2021
  • ByRegina Criminal Defence Lawyers
  • Criminal Law
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How long is a life sentence in Canada? If you have ever asked that question to yourself, you must be in an unfortunate and dire situation. Alternatively, perhaps a loved one is, or you might be curious simply out of interest. Whatever the reason might be, it is wise to store the necessary information in the back of your mind.

Life sentence or imprisonment is considered to be the most severe punishment for acriminal offencein the country. It is a harsh reality that many offenders cannot swallow.

Once they become a lifer, convicts who are sentenced to life imprisonment, some lose hope from the beginning itself, and others do everything in their power to make it out.

But, is it possible? Can lifers really gain their freedom?

The answer is yes.

We will discuss life sentences and different periods and understand how an inmate can leave prison life behind.

What is Life Sentence in Canada?

In Canada, a life sentence is a punishment for specific crimes that apply for the rest of the criminal’s life. Parole is a possibility, but even if granted, the criminal is still liable to lifelong Prisons Canada monitoring and is liable to be sent back to jail for parole violations.

Before being qualified for parole, a person serving a life sentence must serve a predetermined amount of time. According to the Criminal Code, first-degree murder and attempted murder have the 25-year parole ineligibility periods that are the longest. The sentencing judge determines the length of time a second-degree murderer is ineligible for parole, which normally ranges from 10 to 25 years.

The most serious punishment for any offence in Canada is a life sentence. The Canadian Parliament implements criminal laws that are applied equally throughout the nation.

How Long is a Life Sentence in Canada?

It is normal to wonder how long is a life sentence. The term life imprisonment has different meanings in different countries. However, a life sentence in Canada is pretty simple to understand.

It is the term’s literal meaning, i.e., a convict is sentenced to prison for as long as his life expectancy.

However, there is, of course, more to the story. It is not a black and white issue. After all, the judgement is being passed on human life. And it is in our nature to change and adapt as time passes.

Therefore, life imprisonment in Canada has several levels and sub-levels, you can say. Without further ado, let us dive into the discussion about different life sentences categories.

Check:Indictable Offence in Canada

Mandatory Life Sentences

According to the law, the maximum sentence in Canada for the worst offence is life imprisonment. Specific crimes will lead to the offender serving a life sentence(s) if committed. The only difference is the parole hearing, which depends upon the severity of the crime.

Let us break the crimes into different categories so it will be easier for you to understand.

An offender will get a mandatory life sentence without parole eligibility for 25 years when committing high treason orfirst-degree murder. This means the convict must serve a minimum of 25 years before being brought in front of the Parole Board of Canada to prove the lifer is suitable for parole.

The mandatory life sentence is a rule for convicts who are responsible forsecond-degree murder. The minimum prison time without the possibility of parole is 10 years. However, it could be anywhere between 10 to 25 years, and the decision solely lies with the Court and the direness of the crime itself.

It must be noted that the period of no parole can be extended or declined altogether if the convict doesn’t show any self-improvement changes.

Multiple Life Sentences

Multiple life sentences usually take place during murder cases, especially if the offender is responsible for numerous murders.

In such a situation, the court will convict the offender with a life sentence for each murder. For instance, if there were three murders, the convict would be given three life sentences. Of course, additional years will be added if other acts of crimes are involved, such asaggravated sexual assault.

What is the practical advantage of multiple life sentences? The critical point is the prosecutor can ensure the offender does not have the possibility of parole anytime soon.

For example, if the convict is given 25 years with no parole for one life sentence, the prosecutor will be able to make sure the convict does not get parole for 75 years due to three life sentences.

Of course, more often than not, convicts with multiple life sentences tend to never make it all the way to the end of their parole period.

Life Sentences for Minors

The rulings of parole ineligibility are different for minors, i.e., offenders under 18. Unless, of course, they are tried as adults. This only happens in cases of extremely violent crimes such as premeditated murders, mass murders, rape, and armed robbery being some of them.

Most minors are sent to juvenile centers and might be fortunate to have their case be looked upon once more as an adult. If their behaviour changed for the better, they would be successfully released permanently after parole.

At other times, the opposite happens, and they end up being in prison till the end of their lives.

What is Life without Parole?

Before understanding the phrase life without parole, you need to know the meaning of the word “parole” in the legal world.

In simple words, parole is used to define the period when a convict is released temporarily or permanently due to good behaviour. This only occurs after the convict serves the set minimum number of years sentenced by the court.

However, many offenders commit insanely heinous crimes. For example, serial killers. They might also not show remorse about their actions.

In such cases, these convicts are sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, i.e., they will never be suitable to be released from prison into society.

The Importance of Parole

Now, some of you might be wondering what the importance of parole is. The truth is, it might literally be the most crucial aspect of being in prison. The fact that a convict might be considered or given the option of being on parole is like directly winning a lottery ticket. It is the fine line between freedom and staying in prison until one’s last breath.

When lifers are taken tothe Parole Board of Canada, the inmates will be judged based on many factors. Some of them include disciplinary records, psychiatric evaluations, disciplinary records, vocational training, supervisor reports, self-help participation, education certificates, letters of support, and parole plans.

However, it is easy to lose eligibility for parole by the most straightforward action. For example, some inmates are written up or given a black mark for smoking.

Thus, inmates who really want parole must work extremely hard to discipline themselves and avoid any and everything that could put them under the category of Life without the Possibility of Parole.

The unfortunate reality is many offenders with life imprisonment are not eligible for parole. Nevertheless, offenders who are given the possibility of parole after their minimum sentence are actually not guaranteed parole.

Life Imprisonment: Other Offences

While high treason, first-degree, and second-degree murders mean life imprisonment, other severe criminal offences pertain to life sentences too. These offences could lead to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, with parole ineligibility from 7 to 25 years.

Some of these offences that could land a defendant in prison for a lifetime or multiple are as the following:

  1. Mutiny
  2. Piracy
  3. Airport Attack
  4. Aircraft Hijacking
  5. Arson(compromising human lives)
  6. Kidnapping
  7. Robbery
  8. Attempted Murder
  9. Vehicular Homicideunder the influence
  10. Infanticide
  11. Aggravated sexual assault
  12. Trafficking

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some most common inquiries about how long is a life sentence in Canada. We hope the answers will clear up any lingering confusion.

Question: Is a Life Sentence 25 Years?

Answer:A life sentence for high treason and first-degree murder is a minimum of 25 years and without the possibility of parole for that period.

Question: What is the Maximum Life Sentence in Canada?

Answer:There is not a definite number for a maximum life sentence. It could be anywhere from hundreds of years to multiple life sentences.

Question: What Do 25 Years to Life Mean?

Answer:This means that an offender will only be eligible for parole after serving 25 years. The parole is not guaranteed, as it will depend upon their adaptation as an inmate.

Question: What Do 15 Years to Life Mean?

Answer:This means that an offender will only be eligible for parole after serving a minimum of 15 years. The guarantee of parole depends upon the inmate’s overall behaviour and self-changes.

Question: Can Life without Parole be Reduced?

Answer:No, life without parole does not receive any consideration, which means it will not be reversed or reduced.

Question: Is Life without Parole Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

Answer:While it is not unusual punishment, the judgement of whether it is cruel or not depends upon the intensity and severity of the offender’s crime.

Final Thoughts

In summary, the punishment of life imprisonment can seem harsh in some instances where the defendant was remorseful and willing to change for the greater good. However, at other times, depending on the horridness of the crime, a life sentence or even multiple life sentences might not seem enough.

It is a punishment with both pros and cons, but a mandatory one that is required in the legal system. Hence, we aimed to inform you of the fundamentals of life imprisonment and how long is a life sentence in Canada.


How long is imprisonment for life in Canada? ›

Full Parole Eligibility

Under paragraph 745(a) of the Criminal Code of Canada (CCC), an offender serving life for 1st degree murder is eligible for full parole 25 years after the date they were taken into custody. Eligibility does not mean automatic release. Full parole must be granted by the PBC.

Are life sentences 25 years? ›

A one-life sentence imposes an obligation on a defendant to serve 15 to 25 years in prison until the eligibility of parole. The sentence depends on the gravity of the crime and on the jurisdiction in which the defendant is tried. Parole is usually granted to individuals who have displayed good behavior.

How long is a life sentence technically? ›

Life imprisonment is any sentence of imprisonment for a crime under which convicted people are to remain in prison for the rest of their natural lives or indefinitely until pardoned, paroled, or otherwise commuted to a fixed term.

What is the average jail time for crimes in Canada? ›

The median length of custody for all offences in Canada was 30 days and 81% of the custodial sentences were six months or less. Approximately 3% of the custodial sentences were for two years or more. Attempted murder (2,555 days) and homicide (1,825 days) cases received the longest median custodial sentences.

Is a life sentence 20 years? ›

In the United States, people serving a life sentence are eligible for parole after 25 years. If they are serving two consecutive life sentences, it means they have to wait at least 50 years to be considered for parole.

How long is the longest life sentence? ›

In 1981, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA, Dudley Wayne Kyzer received the longest single sentence of 10,000 years for murdering his wife. He then received a further two life sentences for murdering his mother-in-law and a college student.

How many years is life sentence in USA? ›

A life sentence from a federal court will therefore result in imprisonment for the life of the defendant unless a pardon or reprieve is granted by the President, if, upon appeal, the conviction is quashed, or compassionate release is granted.

How long is a life sentence in USA in years? ›

California. California life sentences can be 25 or 30 years before being eligible for parole. These can be extended if a gun is used in the crime. California also has life imprisonment without chance of parole.

How long is life without parole? ›

This is a prison sentence given to a convicted defendant in which they will remain in prison for their entire life and will not have the ability to a conditional release before they complete this sentence (see Parole).

What determines a life sentence? ›

As its name implies, an offender who is given a life sentence is sentenced to spend the rest of their life in a prison cell as a punishment for committing a crime. A life sentence is typically reserved for the most serious of crimes, such as murder, manslaughter, or rape.

Why is life without parole better? ›

A sentence of life without parole means exactly what it says—those convicted of crimes are locked away in prison until they die. However, unlike the death penalty, a sentence of life without parole allows mistakes to be corrected or new evidence to come to light.

Why do they give life plus years? ›

Life sentence in many states does not actually mean life. It means 25 years or some similar amount. Or it means the person may still qualify for probation after a certain period of time. So, by stating life + whatever, the judge is making sure that the person will actually stay ...

What crimes keep you out of Canada? ›

Crimes That Can Make You Inadmissible to Canada
  • DUI (including DWI, DWAI, reckless driving, etc.)
  • theft.
  • drug trafficking.
  • drug possession.
  • weapons violations.
  • assault.
  • probation violations.
  • domestic violence.

How does sentencing work in Canada? ›

The Court may sentence a person convicted of an offence to jail. An offender who is sentenced to less than two years serves the sentence in a provincial correctional institution. An offender sentenced to two years or more usually serves the sentence in a federal penitentiary.

What is the most serious offence in Canada? ›

Indictable Offence

Indictable offences are the most serious offences under the Criminal Code and they come with more serious punishments. Examples of this type of offence are theft over $5,000, assault or murder.

How long is a life sentence in England? ›

If you're given a life sentence it will last for the rest of your life. If you're ever released from prison you will spend the rest of your life 'on licence' in the community. If you break licence conditions or commit another crime you can be sent back to prison.

Why do judges sentence over 100 years? ›

Sentencing laws vary across the world, but in the United States, the reason people get ordered to serve exceptional amounts of prison time is to acknowledge multiple crimes committed by the same person. “Each count represents a victim,” says Rob McCallum, Public Information Officer for the Colorado Judicial Branch.

Is 20 25 years a life sentence? ›

In some jurisdictions, a "life" sentence is a misnomer in that it can come with the possibility of parole. Depending on the state's law, a defendant may be eligible for parole after a set number of years, like 20, 25, or 40.

What is the longest sentence in Canada? ›

First degree murder and high treason carry the longest period of parole ineligibility in the Criminal Code, at 25 years. Parole eligibility for second degree murder typically varies between 10 and 25 years, and is set by the sentencing judge. A life sentence is the most severe punishment for any crime in Canada.

Who has the longest life sentence in the United States? ›

Prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment
NameSentence startSentence term
Charles Cullen200619 life sentences without parole for 497 years
David Randitsheni200916 life sentences plus 220 years
Jeffrey Dahmer199216 life sentences without parole
Earl Bradley201114 life sentences without parole plus 165 years
48 more rows

Who is the longest serving prisoner in America? ›

60–69 years
NameSentence startSentence end
Warren NutterFebruary 2, 1956December 8, 2021
William Heirens19462012
Kenneth NicelyDecember 23, 1958ongoing
Clarence Marshall19502015
16 more rows

Can life without parole be overturned? ›

The first and most direct opportunity a defendant has to challenge a life without the possibility of parole conviction is on direct appeal from the trial court's judgment. A challenge on direct appeal is based solely upon the happenings of the trial court proceedings, including any transcripts, exhibits, and motions.

What crimes are punishable by life without parole? ›

Life without parole sentences may be imposed for crimes such as:
  • First degree murder.
  • Felony murder.
  • Rape, if the defendant has previously been convicted of rape.
  • Sexual penetration, if during the commission of the crime the defendant tortured the victim.
  • Lewd or lascivious acts, if committed during a burglary.

How long is a life sentence in Oregon? ›

If sentenced to life imprisonment, the court shall order that the defendant shall be confined for a minimum of 30 years without possibility of parole or release to post-prison supervision except as provided in ORS 144.397 (Release eligibility for juvenile offenders after 15 years of imprisonment), and without the ...

Can life sentence be reduced? ›

The Director may file a motion for the reduction of your sentence if you are 70 or older, have served at least 30 years on a life sentence, and the Director believes you are no longer a danger to the public. Individual states may have their own laws allowing for the reduction of a sentence under similar circumstances.

What happens to your money when you go to jail for life? ›

Remains in Account.

This is what happens in most cases. Whatever money you've earned up to this point is still your money. If you have it in a bank account, then that money stays in your bank account. It will continue to sit in your bank account throughout your duration in jail.

Do you get conjugal visits on death row? ›

Even in states that allow conjugal visits for other prisoners, death row prisoners are not entitled to conjugal visits, and no state officially permits conjugal visits for death row prisoners.

What crimes give you a life sentence? ›

5 crimes that will get you “life without parole” in California are:
  • first-degree murder, per Penal Code 187;
  • felony-murder, per Senate Bill 1437;
  • rape, per Penal Code 261 PC, if the defendant had a prior conviction of rape;
Mar 12, 2019

Is a life sentence your whole life? ›

In most cases, a life sentence is the maximum punishment that can be imposed. Such maximum sentences are reserved for the most serious cases. However, someone convicted of murder will always receive a life sentence. This doesn't necessarily mean that they will spend the rest of their life in prison.

How many months is a life sentence? ›

A life sentence is any type of imprisonment where a defendant is required to remain in prison for all of their natural life or until parole. So how long is a life sentence? In most of the United States, a life sentence means a person in prison for 15 years with the chance for parole.

How many inmates are doing life without parole? ›

In 2020, The Sentencing Project produced a 50-state survey of departments of corrections that revealed that more than 55,000 Americans are incarcerated in state and federal prisons with no chance of parole, reflecting a 66% rise in people serving LWOP since 2003.

Which American state has carried out the most executions? ›

United States Capital Punishment:

Texas leads the nation in the number of executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

Why do criminals get parole? ›

Probation and parole are privileges which allow criminals to avoid prison or to be released from prison after serving only a portion of their sentences. The goals of probation and parole are to rehabilitate offenders and guide them back into society while minimizing the likelihood that they will commit a new offense.

What is the 900 year sentence? ›

Bucks Man Gets 900+ Years In Prison For Abusing, Photographing Girl For Years. DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (CBS) -- A Bucks County judge has sent a clear message that he hopes will grab the attention of child predators: a sentence of more than 900 years for a man who abused a teenage girl for four years.

What does 3 consecutive life sentences mean? ›

In judicial practice, back-to-back life sentences are two or more consecutive life sentences given to a felon. This penalty is typically used to minimize the chance of the felon being released from prison. This is a common punishment for a defendant convicted of multiple murder in the United States.

Do American prisoners serve their full sentence? ›

The majority of prison sentences passed in court will include time to be served in prison and time to serve in the community. This means that a prisoner will not spend the whole of their sentence in prison. The exceptions are life and extended sentences which are regulated by different rules.

What crimes Cannot be pardoned in Canada? ›

Are there any crimes that cannot be pardoned?
  • sexual offences involving a minor.
  • more than 3 indictable offences where the sentence was more than 2 years in jail each time.
  • any crime in which the sentence can never be completed (in some very serious cases the offender will receive lifetime in jail or lifetime probation)

Why can't felons go to Canada? ›

Trying to enter Canada with a 20 year-old felony can still be an issue for a US citizen unless they have received special permission from Immigration Canada. This is because a single felony conviction that equates to a serious criminal offense above the border can result in a lifetime ban.

Does Canada check US criminal records? ›

Does Canada know about US criminal records? When Americans travel across the border into Canada, the border officers will be able to see their criminal records. To guarantee the safety of its citizens, Canada and the United States exchange criminal background information via travel documents.

How much of your sentence do you have to serve in Canada? ›

Statutory Release

As a general rule, an offender is legally entitled to be released into the community at two-thirds of the sentence unless they are serving a life sentence or DO's serving indeterminate sentences (meaning with no fixed end date) or offenders subject to a PBC order detaining them until warrant expiry.

What are the 4 types of sentencing? ›

Four major goals are usually attributed to the sentencing process: retribution, rehabilitation, deterrence, and incapacitation.

What is the most common criminal sentencing? ›

Probation, the most frequently used criminal sanction, is a sentence that an offender serves in the community in lieu of incarceration.

What is the most crime ridden city in Canada? ›

The riskiest areas in Canada in 2022

According to CTV, the greatest crime rate recorded by Statistics Canada for 2022 is 11,112 crimes per 100,000 population in the city of British Columbia. Further, in crime statistics, Lethbridge is ranked among the most dangerous areas in Canada.

What is the most violent city in Ontario? ›

The communities with the highest crime severity are Windsor, Thunder Bay, Brantford and Sudbury, which range from 84 per cent to 54 per cent above the average crime severity.

What is the sentence for manslaughter in Canada? ›

Everyone who is convicted of manslaughter is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for life, and where a firearm is used a minimum punishment of four years imprisonment (Criminal Code, s. 236).

Can I go to Canada with a felony from 15 years ago? ›

Deemed Rehabilitated

This means that anyone with multiple misdemeanors or a single felony on their criminal record can be considered inadmissible to Canada even 30 or 40 years later unless they have been given special approval for entry.

What does life plus 25 years mean? ›

Life sentence in many states does not actually mean life. It means 25 years or some similar amount. Or it means the person may still qualify for probation after a certain period of time. So, by stating life + whatever, the judge is making sure that the person will actually stay in prison for a very very long time.

When was the death penalty abolished in Canada? ›

Canada's last hangings were carried out in December 1962, although the de jure abolition of the death penalty did not come until 1976. However, every attempt to eliminate capital punishment has met with fierce opposition.

How many years do you get for manslaughter in the US? ›

Statutory Penalties. The statutory maximum for voluntary manslaughter is 10 years.

What is the penalty for killing someone while driving drunk in Canada? ›

If another person suffers bodily harm because of the offence, the maximum sentence is 14 years in jail. If another person is killed because of the offence, the maximum sentence is a life sentence.

What is the longest sentence for manslaughter? ›

If the offender is assessed as dangerous the judge may pass either a life sentence or an extended sentence of imprisonment to protect the public. If the offender pleads guilty the judge will reduce the sentence by up to one third depending on how early the plea was made.

Does Canada accept US felons? ›

The Immigration Act specifically bars felons from entry to Canada. Other offenses that can keep a person from being able to enter Canada include reckless driving, misdemeanor drug possession, any type of felony, domestic violence and shoplifting.

How long is a life sentence in America? ›

A life sentence from a federal court will therefore result in imprisonment for the life of the defendant unless a pardon or reprieve is granted by the President, if, upon appeal, the conviction is quashed, or compassionate release is granted.

What is the point of sentencing someone to 1000 years? ›

Sentencing laws vary across the world, but in the United States, the reason people get ordered to serve exceptional amounts of prison time is to acknowledge multiple crimes committed by the same person. “Each count represents a victim,” says Rob McCallum, Public Information Officer for the Colorado Judicial Branch.

Who was the youngest person to be executed in Canada? ›

George Stinney, Youngest Executed – StoryCorps.

Why did they stop executing criminals in Canada? ›

Among the reasons cited for banning capital punishment in Canada were fears about wrongful convictions, concerns about the state taking people's lives, and uncertainty about the death penalty's role as a deterrent for crime.

Who was the last man executed in Canada? ›

Despite that, the last executions in Canada were made under the Criminal Code in 1962 when Ronald Turpin and Arthur Lucas were hanged at Toronto's Don Jail. The last time the Canadian military had a legal execution was in 1945, when Harold Pringle was shot at dawn in Italy.


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