I’ve recently taken on a client who is on a two year sentence – just barely enough to be in the federal rather than the provincial system. He indicates that when he was sentenced the judge who sentenced him was trying to help him by sending him to federal custody, because he stands the best chance of getting parole that way. And it’s just…not true. At least not in this client’s case. Which prompted me to think about all the well-intentioned people who try to help with parole and end up causing problems along the way.
The provincial and federal parole systems are different. Neither is necessarily “better” overall than the other. And it’s definitely not true that it’s universally easier to get parole in one system more than the other. Depending on a client’s circumstances, it may be more of an advantage to be provincial rather than federal, or the opposite. There’s so many variables I could never state a general rule. And so the problem with the judge’s good intentions, in this case, isn’t that he was wrong. It’s that he imagined there’s a safe, general answer at all.
Realistically, most clients aren’t in a position to choose between provincial and federal custody. A client sentenced to two years or more is going federal, while one sentenced to less is going provincial. But sometimes when someone is right on the edge a judge will give them a choice and their lawyer’s submissions one way or the other are going to make the difference. Also, the outcome can be pushed somewhat one way or the other depending on pre-sentence custody – time served before actual sentencing – since it’s on the sentence after this is factored in that determines the final destination.
Frankly, this is a complex topic that even most defence lawyers can’t navigate very well. It’s why I gladly consult with clients and their lawyers prior to sentencing to be sure we avoid any unforced errors.
The more I learn about parole and the more I specialize in this badly understood area of law, the more I appreciate how people are attracted to simple rules that may not always be true. I do the same thing myself, holding onto simple rules in areas of law I don’t practice and repeating those rules any time the subject comes up. So the takeaway from this short article is that neither provincial nor federal parole is necessarily better. Whether one or the other is better in your situation depends on knowing more about your specific situation. So get help and consult with someone prior to sentencing. It isn’t something you want to take a chance on. And I provide free consultations for exactly this reason – I’d rather the client get in a good position while it’s still possible, rather than try to recover from a bad position later on.