How does the COVID-19 outbreak affect parole hearings?
- Kate Mitchell
- No comments
Inmates can continue to submit applications for parole, temporary absences, etc., and they are entitled to have a hearing or review in the timeline set out in the relevant statute or regulation. COVID-19 does not impact inmates’ eligibility for parole or temporary absences.
At the moment, provincial and federal parole hearings are continuing during the COVID-19 outbreak. Inmates are entitled to proceed with their scheduled hearings, and they should not feel pressured into consenting to a postponement or paper review before speaking with a lawyer.
The format of in-person hearings may be modified though:
- The Board may appear by video
- Parole officers may participate by telephone or video
- Counsel may have to attend by telephone
Offenders are entitled to be represented by counsel at hearings. Normally, counsel attend in-person. However, jails and prisons may not allow lawyers to attend in-person, and other arrangements may need to be made (e.g. participating by telephone). Given visitor restrictions, offenders may have to meet with counsel over the phone. Under section 97(3)(a) of the Corrections and Conditional Release Regulations, Correctional Service Canada must provide “reasonable access” to counsel. For provincial inmates, different legislation and regulations apply.
Public safety is the paramount consideration in parole and temporary absence decisions. We take the position that the Parole Board of Canada and provincial parole boards must take notice of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health risk caused by overcrowded prisons, and social distancing measures in place across the country, as they are relevant to public safety and we have been making submissions along these lines in parole hearings we have done.
The COVID-19 pandemic is also a change of circumstances that may justify an appeal or reconsideration of a parole or temporary absence denial. This is especially true for provincial parole board decisions (especially temporary absences), which are generally reviewed faster than decisions of the federal Parole Board of Canada.