Nicole Levesque and I were invited recently to appear in front of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security in Ottawa recently in order to provide expert testimony on Bill C-23B, a poorly constructed piece legislation proposed by the Conservatives back in May.
It was an interesting experience to say the least. In addition to the two of us, Sheldon Kennedy was there to testify as a victim of abuse and to request that pedophiles no longer be eligible to apply for a pardon.
It was very difficult to disagree with Mr. Kennedy’s testimony; and truth be told we did not. What I had to disagree with was the legislation being proposed, as it lumps all sexual offenders together, regardless of the circumstances of the arrest.
Due to the experience we have at the National Pardon Centre we know that a sexual offence is not just black and white. A considerable number of the sexual cases we have dealt with are of a relatively innocuous nature. They do not involve people in positions of authority and they do not involve young people.
Here is an example. Recently I spoke to a gentleman who had been to a “tailgate party” outside a football game. Obviously there was beer and they were drinking it. And at some point he made a very poor judgement call and decided to relieve himself where he probably shouldn’t have.
In addition to drinking in public, mischief and other charges, he received a sexual offence for exposing himself in public. And there you have it. He is now on the sexual registry for the rest of his life.
While I have no problem refusing pardons in the kinds of cases we hear about in the news, Bill C-23B did not even make an effort to address the various kinds of offences that count as a sexual offence. Therefore, as representatives of the National Pardon Centre we suggested the bill be defeated.
Our other concern with the measure in the bill that would refuse pardons to certain offenders was that it failed to recognize that allowing ex-offenders the opportunity to apply for a pardon is an opportunity to learn something about their behaviour. And since the Parole Board was no longer obliged to grant a pardon it didn’t deem appropriate, there was no harm at all in allowing these people the opportunity to plead their case.
Other parts of the discussion revolved around increasing the waiting periods required before a person became eligible for a pardon and the now infamous clause that would change the term pardon to record suspension.
As the session progressed it became increasingly evident that none of the expert witnesses supported the bill in its entirety. And as the questions continued it became increasingly difficult for anyone to support anything other than the most meaningless measures contained within the bill.
If Bill C-23B passes I will be further disillusioned with our legislative process. Watching committee members scroll around on their blackberries (not all but certainly more than one), while those of us who had taken time away from our families attempted to relay our message was discouraging. I was also a little shocked that some of the committee members took Mr. Kennedy’s presence as a chance to grab an autograph. I am sure Mr. Kennedy is used to it but it struck me as inappropriate.
However, Nicole and I were honoured to have an opportunity to help direct public policy in a positive direction. I don’t know what will happen with Bill C-23B but at the very least it should be amended to remove the reactionary clauses
I am fairly certain the opposition parties realize that Bill C-23B was not properly thought out. With a little luck it will be defeated.