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Convicted murderers win sentence appeals in Alberta, will get earlier chance to apply for parole

The Calgary Courts Centre in Calgary, Alta., Monday, March 11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Four men, each convicted of at least two counts of first-degree murder, have won the right to be able to apply for parole earlier than their initial sentences called for.

Edward Downey, Joshua Frank, Jason Klaus and Derek Saretzky all had their sentence appeals allowed in decisions made at the Alberta Court of Appeal in Calgary on Friday.

Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada had sent Frank’s and Klaus’ cases back to the Alberta Court of Appeal.

READ MORE: Supreme Court of Canada orders Alberta Court of Appeal to deal with sentence in triple-murder case

That move followed a unanimous decision by Canada’s highest court last month in the case of Alexandre Bissonnette, who shot and killed six people at a Quebec mosque in 2017.

The Supreme Court ruled Bissonnette can seek parole after 25 years instead of having to wait 40 years as determined by the judge in the original trial.

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The court called a Criminal Code provision, which meant multiple murderers might have to wait 50 years or more to apply for parole, degrading and incompatible with human dignity and struck it down.

READ MORE: Quebec City mosque shooter Alexandre Bissonnette can apply for parole after 25 years

Balfour Der, Saretzky’s lawyer, told Global News that in his client’s case, Friday’s decision means the parole ineligibility period has been reduced from 75 years to 25 years.

“There were three counts of first-degree murder,” Der said. “Each one carried a parole ineligibility period of 25 years.

“The trial judge made them run consecutively, but because of recent changes in the law, that part of it was unconstitutional — to making consecutive parole ineligibility periods.”

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Der said his client’s appeal did not require a physical hearing on Friday because “the sentence had to be reduced.”

Der noted that he had believed it was cruel and unusual punishment to “have someone go that long without being able to be eligible for parole.”

“How do we know what someone is going to be like in 25 years or 30 years or 50 years? Trying to predict today the future, I thought was unfair because people can change and we should never take away all hope from people — even those who have committed the most grave crimes — because it’s part of our Canadian fabric that we are always hopeful that someone can be rehabilitated.”

Saretzky was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder in connection with the 2015 killings of Terry Blanchette, his young daughter Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette and Hanne Meketech in Blairmore, Alta.

Frank and Klaus were both convicted of three counts of first-degree murder in connection with the 2013 deaths of Klaus’ father, sister and mother in central Alberta.

Downey was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in connection with the 2016 deaths of Sara Baillie and her five-year-old daughter Taliyah Marsman.

READ MORE: ‘U.S. model’ for parole ineligibility likely to face court challenge in Canada: lawyers

In 2011, the federal government enacted legislation that allowed judges to order murderers to serve consecutive periods of parole ineligibility for each offence if they murdered more than one person.

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–With files from Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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