COVID-19 and Parole Board of Canada policy changes
- Kate Mitchell
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In response to COVID-19, the Parole Board of Canada has adopted some interim measures.
Many of the changes are simply procedural. Hearings are now conducted via videoconference or teleconference, observers are not allowed to attend (except for victims), and lawyers attend by teleconference.
However, there are some notable substantive changes as well. First, Elder-Assisted hearings are suspended, since they can only be conducted in-person with the Elder present with the prisoner. Second, Temporary Absence hearings are also suspended, unless the review is combined with a parole review. The reason for this is that Temporary Absences have been suspended (except Temporary Absences for medical purposes) by Correctional Service Canada. It remains to be seen how the Board will treat applications and complete reviews for extended medical Temporary Absences during the pandemic.
Finally, more reviews are being done by paper review, rather than an in-person or video conference hearing. This includes full parole referrals for prisoners already on day parole and parole by exception applications, unless the Board chooses to conduct a hearing. Parole by exception applications are also triaged to an extent, with the Board assessing applications as they come in and determining whether to prioritize the review.
While the Board is trying to be responsive to the pandemic, the Board still has not fundamentally changed its policies to allow for more prisoners to be released to help avoid and contain outbreaks in prisons. Hopefully the Board will make further changes to facilitate decarceration, but only time will tell.