THE B.C. Court of Appeal has upheld a decision that ruled scrapping early parole for people who have already been sentenced was a violation of their rights.
A panel of three appeal court justices agreed with a North Vancouver weapons dealer and two other inmates that a Conservative law abolishing early parole amounted to additional punishment after sentencing and shouldn't be allowed.
At the time he launched his constitutional challenge to the law, Christopher John Whaling, 42, was serving a sentence at the minimum security Ferndale Institution, after being convicted of three gun offences in September 2010.
Whaling, who used to be a verifier for the Canadian Firearms Registry, was nabbed five years ago as part of a police investigation into a large-scale gun-trafficking ring in the Lower Mainland.
When police searched Whaling's North Vancouver home on East Keith Road under warrant, they found a large quantity of unregistered firearms, including two 45-calibre handguns - one of which was loaded - and a MAC-10 automatic pistol, as well as machine guns in various stages of completion.
He also had a gun similar to an AK-47 that he had converted into a fully automatic weapon and stashed in a box in the woods near Squamish.
In September 2010, Whaling was sentenced to four and a half years in jail.
Because he was a first-time federal offender serving a sentence for non-violent offences, Whaling was entitled to apply for accelerated day parole, which allows offenders to be released on parole after just one-sixth of their sentence.
But when the federal government's new law abolishing accelerated parole came into effect, in March of 2011, Whaling got a letter saying he was no longer eligible for the program. A parole board panel later denied Whaling regular parole, on the grounds that he continued to deny doing anything illegal and that he was at risk of engaging in similar gun sales to criminals in the future.
A month later, Whaling was let out of jail on bail pending an appeal of his conviction.
In June, the B.C. Supreme Court struck down the parts of the law that applied to people like Whaling who had already been sentenced for their crimes, saying it amounted to additional punishment.
The Attorney General of Canada appealed that ruling.
But on Nov. 2, the appeal court upheld the lower court decision.
As of the end of September, the ruling affected 39 people who were serving sentences in British Columbia, according to court documents.
Under the old rules, offenders convicted of nonviolent crimes could apply for release after serving only one-sixth of their sentence. As long as the parole board didn't think they were likely to commit a violent crime, it had to release them.
Under the new rules, no offender is eligible for parole until they have served at least a third of their sentence. Parole is harder to get, because parole boards must be convinced the convict is unlikely to commit any further crimes - not just violent ones - and have discretion to deny parole.