Pardons (Record Suspension)
All ex-offenders should have the right to apply for a pardon or suspension of a criminal record, after having served their full sentence and having spent a definite period of demonstrated crime-free life in the community.
Between 10 and 15% of Canadians have criminal records. While most applications are successful, only about 11% of all persons with a criminal record ever apply for a pardon. Since the enactment of the CRA in 1970, over 400,000 persons have received pardons and of these, 96% are still in force, demonstrating that the vast majority of recipients remain crime-free in the community. Without a doubt this is a most successful program which reduces recidivism and increases public safety.
A pardon or record suspension facilitates obtaining employment and housing and reduces unnecessary stigma in other facets of life. Once the offender has served his or her time, additional stigmatization serves no useful purpose and indeed we believe it compounds the difficulties associated with finding work and shelter. Section 11 (h) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms reminds us that any person charged with an offence, once the sentence for which he or she has been convicted has been served, should not be tried or punished for it again.
We disagree with banning any group of offenders from receiving a pardon or record suspension. If the criminal justice system believes in its capacity to assist in the rehabilitation of offenders, such persons must be able to prove that they have corrected their behaviour, reintegrate society, and lead crime-free lives. Those who manage to turn their lives around, even after many years of struggling to remain within the law, should have the opportunity to have their record suspended. In addition, given that many crimes are committed by young persons, it would be wise not to condemn a person eternally for a youthful mistake.
The Criminal Records Act (CRA) was introduced as a private member’s bill and enacted in 1970. The purpose of the Act was to enable those who could demonstrate that they had successfully reintegrated society to mitigate the stigma associated with a criminal record. Obtaining a pardon was not easy prior to the Act being amended. In the first place, it involved rather extensive RCMP investigations which could pose further embarrassment to the requestor. In addition, being pardoned did not preclude persons from being asked whether they had ever been convicted of a crime.
In 1985, enactment of The Human Rights Act provided protection from discrimination to those who had received a pardon for a criminal conviction. Henceforth, employers were not permitted to probe individuals as to their former conviction. Rather, they are only permitted to ask “Do you have a criminal record for which you have not been pardoned?” to which a pardonee may answer “no”.
In 1992, the Act was amended in order to increase efficiency in terms of costs and the delays due to the backlog. It gave the National Parole Board the authority to make decisions on pardons, rather than recommending pardons that then had to be approved by Cabinet. It also automatically removed certain criminal record data from police databases. In 2000, amendments in Bill, C-7 enabled the RCMP to “flag” those persons who had obtained a pardon and who had been convicted of a sexual offence.
Further amendments, however, introduced through the passage of Bill C-23A in June, 2010 and Bill C-10 in 2012 have increased the waiting period for pardons, now called ‘record suspensions’, to 10 years from 5 years of crime free life for all those convicted of an indictable offence and 5 years for all summary conviction offences. In addition, offenders who commit a number of sexual offences will forever become ineligible to receive suspension of their criminal records. Greater discretionary authority has also been given to the Parole Board of Canada in deciding whether to grant such a record suspension. As a result of these measures, as well as dramatic increases in user fees, the total number of pardons granted annually will decrease substantially from historic levels.