In 2010 the Conservative Harper government passed the Criminal Records Act, which got rid of criminal pardons and replaced it with the term “Record suspensions.” This particularly nasty piece of legislation doubled the time it took to apply for a pardon on summary offenses from three years to five years and on indictable offenses from five years to 10 years. It also eliminated the chance for a pardon for a number of offenses and more than quadrupled the cost from $150.00 to $631.00. This act was one of many that Harper’s government enacted in their Law and Order agenda. That government was particularly keen on punishment, increasing lengths of sentences and creating mandatory minimums for many offenses, this Act furthered that agenda by making forgiveness of a previous mistake ever more difficult to attain. What is particularly pernicious about this Act was the dramatic increase in the price of applying; making it all but impossible for someone of limited means to get a record suspension.
Over 3 million people in Canada have criminal records. These records can prevent you from coaching a softball team, getting a job, public housing or even going into another country. In our day and age computers never forget and a youthful mistake at the age of 20 can still haunt someone more than 30 years later. Ironically, statistics from the Parole Board have shown that more than 97% of people who apply for a pardon never reoffend. When the Conservatives were seeking input on this legislation more than 98% of everyone who testified during the consultation process were opposed to this Act. Nevertheless the Conservatives passed it – it fit their tough on crime agenda.
New numbers released by the Parole Board of Canada now show a significant drop in the number of people applying for record suspensions. In the last four years the number of applicants has dropped by over half from almost 30,000 annually to only 12,384 last year. Why? because the cost effectively prohibits at least 50% from applying. It is time for the Liberal government to fix this problem. Change it back to a pardon and make it easier to attain. One or two mistakes shouldn’t haunt an individual for a lifetime and if the applicant is truly not deserving of a pardon that is why we have a Board to examine those applications and if necessary – turn them down.
Shawn Swarts is a lawyer at the law firm of Cobb & Jones LLP. Should you have any questions for Ask A Lawyer, please direct them to the Simcoe Reformer or ask a lawyer of your choice. For more articles, visit the Library page at www.cobbjones.ca.