Russell Williams, the murderous former airforce commander who killed two women and who sexually assaulted two others will soon be subject to the sometimes incomprehensible rules that govern federal prisons and parole in Canada. In a courtroom in Belleville today he pleaded guilty to 86 crimes including the murders of Jessica Lloyd and Cpl. Marie-France Comeau. The lurid details of his deviant spree of fetish break-ins that culminated in torture and murder began to unspool in court, along with the release of bizarre photos taken by Williams himself. He will be automatically sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. His life sentence means exactly that – he’s subject to scrutiny for the rest of his life, even if he is one day freed from prison. But you might not believe just how soon he’s eligible to seek freedom.
Believe it or not, Williams can seek release from prison as soon as his sentence begins. In practice, it would never happen, but the provision exists, providing that killers – and all federal prisoners – can apply to the warden for escorted temporary absences, as soon as they get to prison. Because escorted temporary absences are granted by wardens, and not by the parole board, the process by which they’re doled out is not subject to public scrutiny.
Williams will be able to seek unsupervised release from prison after he has served 22 years of his sentence. Though he’s been sentenced to life with no chance of parole for 25 years, Canadian law says he’s eligible to seek day parole and unescorted passes three years before full parole eligibility. Day parole typically involves release to a halfway house.
Williams will not be able to seek early parole after 15 years under the Faint Hope Provision. He’s barred from using that measure because he’s a multiple murderer. Here’s Section 745.6 of the Criminal Code:
745.6 (1) Subject to subsection (2), a person may apply, in writing, to the appropriate Chief Justice in the province in which their conviction took place for a reduction in the number of years of imprisonment without eligibility for parole if the person
(a) has been convicted of murder or high treason;
(b) has been sentenced to imprisonment for life without eligibility for parole until more than fifteen years of their sentence has been served; and
(c) has served at least fifteen years of their sentence.
Exception — multiple murderers
(2) A person who has been convicted of more than one murder may not make an application under subsection (1), whether or not proceedings were commenced in respect of any of the murders before another murder was committed.
Williams won’t have to stay in a federal prison in Ontario. Prisoners aren’t required to serve time in the jurisdiction where they were convicted. Corrections Canada often moves high profile, notorious convicts out of the area to get them away from the publicity, in the belief that it will make it easier for them to integrate into a prison population and get on with their sentence. Serial child killer Clifford Olson, who killed 11 children in British Columbia, was moved to Ontario soon after his conviction in 1982. He’s now in a prison in Quebec.
Williams already has served roughly 8 months of his life sentence. When you are convicted of murder and sentenced to life, Corrections calculates the beginning of the sentence from the date of arrest. Williams was arrested in early February 2010.
Williams won’t get an Inmate Number when he goes to federal prison. Canada’s Corrections system doesn’t assign convict numbers like those you’ve seen in U.S. TV shows. Instead, Williams will have an FPS number – an abbreviation of Fingerprint System number. That number is assigned to the fingerprints that identify him in CPIC – the Canadian Police Information Centre database, a national directory available to law enforcement. Williams already has an FPS, but I can’t yet tell you what it is. Corrections considers FPS numbers confidential and will not disclose them. Here’s a few infamous killers:
FPS 143391A: David Threinen (murdered four children in Saskatoon in the 1970s):
FPS 704938A: Saul Betesh (murdered shoeshine boy Emmanuel Jaques in Toronto in 1977)
FPS 608637: James Hutchison (murdered two Moncton, N.B. police officers in 1974)
Williams won’t have to serve his life sentence in maximum security. Corrections follows a guideline of putting killers in maximum security for at least two years. After that, depending on their behaviour and assessments of their risk and their needs, they could be moved to lesser security. Shoeshine boy killer Saul Betesh is now confined at medium-security Warkworth Institution in Campbellford, Ontario. Many killers eventually get to minimum security, where there are no fences and no armed guards.
Note: The Corrections and Conditional Release Act is the primary federal law that governs the operation of Canada’s prisons and parole systems.