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Ontario Court of Appeal confirms parole decisions must consider COVID-19

In R v Morgan, 2020 ONCA 279, the Ontario Court of Appeal dismissed a sentence appeal brought during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Court clarified that COVID-19 is relevant to parole decision-making, at paragraph 12:

That result does not mean that there is no potential remedy for the appellant respecting the impacts arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. We expect that the Ontario Parole Board will take into account those impacts in deciding whether the appellant should be granted parole. If the Parole Board fails to do so, the appellant has other remedies available to him to redress that failure.”

The Court didn’t go so far as to say that the PBC or provincial parole boards should be more lenient in assessing prisoners, only suggesting that it would be an error to fail to consider COVID-19.

The Parole Board of Canada and provincial parole boards have an obligation to consider all relevant information that is reliable and persuasive. However, COVID-19 has been getting mixed treatment and often has not been addressed in parole decisions. In this sense, R v Morgan is not creating a new obligation, only confirming that a global pandemic is in fact relevant to parole decision-making.

It remains unclear how parole decisions will treat COVID-19 post-R v Morgan. However, this case provides a strong basis to insist parole decisions address COVID-19 and to appeal decisions that do not. Simply put, to deprive someone of parole during a pandemic and thereby expose him or her to the risks associated with COVID-19 requires a certain amount of justification.

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