Event Details

"17 going on 23": Sentencing Children to Life in Canada

The Centre for Constitutional Studies is delighted to host a public talk with Professor Debra Parkes, Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia.

International human rights bodies have long recommended the abolition of life sentences for children but these punishments remain legal in many countries, including Canada. In 2008, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized the presumption of diminished moral blameworthiness of young people as a constitutional principle of fundamental justice and overturned a law that presumed young people (those under 18) should be sentenced as adults for some serious crimes, including murder. The burden is now on the Crown to prove that a youth sentence would not be of sufficient length to hold the young person accountable for their behaviour. For murder, the only available adult sanction is the mandatory sentence of life.

Prof. Parkes will discuss the reasoning in reported Canadian cases since 2008 in which the Crown sought a life sentence for a young person convicted of murder. She will investigate how judges make sense of a law that provides that a teenager must either receive a maximum sentence of 10 years under the youth system or a minimum penalty of life in adult prison, but nothing in between. Additionally, Prof. Parkes will discuss the constitutional arguments that are at issue, including potential violations of s. 7, 12, and 15 of the Charter and the case law that supports these arguments.

Register to attend online via zoom here.

Register to attend in-person here.


Debra Parkes

Professor, Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia
Professor Parkes joined the Allard School of Law in July 2016. She was a member of the Faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba from 2001 to 2016 where she served a term as Associate Dean (Research and Graduate Studies) from 2013-2016. She has also been a visiting researcher at the University of Woollongong and the University of Sydney. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law from 2009-2013 and President of the Canadian Law & Society Association from 2007-2010. Professor Parkes' scholarly work examines the challenges and possibilities of addressing societal injustices through rights claims, with a focus on the criminal justice, corrections, and workplace contexts. The lens she brings to this work is feminist, intersectional, and socio-legal. Professors Parkes takes a particular interest in the incarceration of women, the limits of prison reform, and the framing and adjudicating of prisoners’ rights claims. With funding from the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Professor Parkes has examined mechanisms for oversight and accountability of imprisonment in Canada and she is leading on a new SSHRC-funded project examining life sentences in legal and social context. In 2015 she guest edited a special volume of the Canadian Journal of Human Rights on solitary confinement and human rights. Before beginning her academic career, Professor Parkes worked as a law clerk to justices of the BC Supreme Court (1997-1998) and practiced with the litigation group at Gowlings LLP in Toronto (1998-2000). She maintains strong connections with the bench and bar, welcoming opportunities to present at judicial education conferences and at continuing professional development workshops for the practicing bar. Professor Parkes supervises graduate students in the fields of sentencing, penal policy, and the criminalization of women.

Event Date(s):

October 27, 2023, 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm

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Centre for Constitutional Studies
448D Law Centre
University of Alberta
Edmonton, AB T6G 2H5
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