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Former Hells Angel battles federal government law

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A former high-ranking Manitoba Hells Angel has launched a legal battle with the federal government, claiming corrections officials are trampling his fundamental rights by refusing to let him have accelerated parole.

When Sean Sebastian Wolfe plea-bargained with the Crown in 2010 and got a nine-year sentence for his role in a cocaine-trafficking conspiracy, he did so knowing speedy parole provisions were in place at the time for non-violent offenders, and he'd be eligible for release after serving one-sixth of his time.

But instead, his lawyer told the Free Press Friday, federal corrections officials and Wolfe's parole officers have repeatedly denied him what's called an accelerated parole review (APR) because Parliament repealed the process when bringing in more restrictive parole laws in March 2011.

The government also retroactively applied the new legislation to hundreds of already-sentenced federal inmates who may have qualified for APR, including Wolfe, Stephan Thliveris said. "They won't even let him put in the documents," said Thliveris.

Effectively, Wolfe is illegally being punished twice -- now by corrections officials -- for a crime he's already been convicted of and sentenced by a court for, Thliveris charged.

By October, Wolfe will have reached two years past what he thought would be his APR full parole date.

'Every day he's in jail is a day he shouldn't be' -- lawyer Stephan Thliveris

"Every day he's in jail is a day he shouldn't be," said Thliveris.

Wolfe has filed a Court of Queen's Bench application seeking several rulings, including for ones stating the government has violated his charter rights not to be punished twice, as well as to not be unreasonably deprived of freedom.

"It's horrifying that the government would step on someone's rights like this," Thliveris said.

Under the prior legislation, Wolfe only had to satisfy the parole board they had no reasonable grounds to believe he was likely to commit a future violent crime.

Under 2011's Abolition of Early Parole Act, that all changed.

An inmate sentenced for a non-violent crime today, for example, only becomes eligible for day parole at six months before one-third of their sentence is served, and the parole board can nix any prospect of release if they find any risk of an inmate reoffending in any way.

Wolfe is also asking the court to sanction his immediate release from prison and is seeking $80,000 in financial compensation due to income he lost by not being able to work in the months he claims he should have been out of custody.

Wolfe was a key police target in 2009's Project Divide, which saw police pay $450,000 to an undercover informant to help capture audio and video insider surveillance of dozens of drug and weapons deals.

Police charged 33 members and associates of the Hells Angels following the year-long project.

At the time, Wolfe was a longtime Hells associate who had been promoted from the Zig Zag Crew, the so-called puppet club of the biker gang.

Thliveris said the 36-year-old has renounced all ties to the gang. "He's no longer a member," he said.

Wolfe's parole case has merit, judging from recent legal rulings coming down elsewhere in Canada.

Currently, a Supreme Court showdown on this exact issue is tentatively set for mid-October as the federal government appeals a November 2012 B.C. Court of Appeal ruling that came down in favour of virtually identical battles fought by three inmates in that province.

A panel of three top justices and a lower-court judge concurred the inmates were effectively being "punished again" for their crimes and the new parole provisions breached their fundamental rights.

In that case, lawyers for Canada's attorney general came to court to defend its legislation, but lost.

According to the Appeal Court's decision, the attorney general argued "the purpose of the repeal of APR was not punitive but to better achieve correctional goals of rehabilitation, reintegration into the community, public safety and public confidence in the administration of justice."

Thliveris predicts nationally, there's going to be a steady stream of applications similar to Wolfe's tabled in court in the future.

"It's going to turn into a tidal wave of 200 to 300 inmates," he said.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 17, 2013 A3

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