The news of Ariel Castro being convicted to a life sentence plus 1000 years in prison has come with varying opinions. Some view the sentencing as a victory for justice, while others see it as a wasteful use of public resources, and a circus display for the media.
We will not comment on the politics of the case here. Ariel Castro committed his crimes in the United States, not in Canada. But you have to wonder, would Ariel Castro have been sentenced similarly if he had lived north of the border?
The short answer is: Yes and No.
Precedence is so important to a trial. In the case of Ariel Castro, precedence was one of the reasons that a capital punishment was not pursued by the prosecution. Instead, they pushed for life sentences to be carried out consecutively.
In Canada, the trial of R. v. Bernardo (Paul Bernardo was a serial killer, and rapist sentenced in 1995) was concluded with a life sentence of 25 years without eligibility for parole. There were no concurrent sentences laid on top, regardless of how many crimes were committed. Paul Bernardo was still a younger man when he went to prison, and in 2020 he will have served the 25 years of his life sentence.
Does this mean that Paul Bernardo will be released in a few short years?
The Dangerous Offender
In Canadian courts, once a person has committed an indictable offense 3 times, this person may then be listed as a dangerous offender. A dangerous offender can be kept in prison indefinitely, until such a time that they do not represent a danger to the public. The council for the defense may attempt to prove that the defendant is no such threat, but in a trial like R. v. Bernardo it was well established that Bernardo would be a danger to the public should he ever be released.
Being declared a dangerous offender, there was no need to apply an additional 1000 years to Paul Bernardo’s life sentence. The result was the same. He was sentenced to prison, and will likely never come out. The case of Ariel Castro would likely have seen similar treatment.
According to Corrections Canada, approximately 24 dangerous offenders are admitted into the Canadian correctional system on average each year.
Details on the dangerous offender designation can be found in Part XXIV of the Criminal Code.