On May 11, 2010 the Conservative Minority Government proposed changes to Canada’s pardon system following a series of sensational media stories. The bill proposes to change the term “pardon” to “record suspension”. Unfortunately the bill does not stop there. Having addressed some important matters concerning sex offenders the bill penalizes even those people with the most minor criminal offences.
Some of the proposed changes under the new “Record Suspension” system are as follows:
- The term “pardon” to be replaced by “record suspension”
- Providing the board absolute discretion to grant or deny a pardon (record suspension)
- Longer waiting periods for both summary and indictable offences
- Elimination of the possibility for pardon to anyone with 3 or more indictable offences
- Elimination of pardons (record suspensions) for anyone with sexual offences involving a minor
- Applicants will be required to prove that a pardon will provide a “measureable benefit” to the applicant
These points represent only the bill’s highlights. It is an extensive overhaul.
In March of 2010 the Bill was then split into two separate bills. Bill C23A and Bill C23B. This was done a result of the fact that Karla Homolka was determined to be eligible for a pardon and that the Parole Board of Canada would have no grounds to refuse it. All members of parliament agreed that this was something which needed to be addressed. It should not have been left to the last minute since anyone working in the criminal justice system knew that Karla Homolka would one day be eligible for a pardon the day she was sentenced. But the nature of politics is such that the problem was left until the last minute.
Bill C23A passed very quickly. It contained a measure that provided the Parole Board the “discretion” to refuse a pardon on any grounds whatsoever. This was enough to block Karla Homolka from obtaining a pardon, something most people would agree is a reasonable thing to do.
Unfortunately the debate surrounding pardons did not end there and the remainder of Bill C23 was still open to debate. When the election was called in the spring of 2011 the Conservatives won a majority government. They campaigned on a crime platform and promised to include all of the crime bills that had previously been defeated under their minority leadership. The new Omni Bus Crime Bill, as it was called, was introduced in September 2011.
One of the interesting measures in the Bill also happens to be the most meaningless. Changing the term pardon to record suspension was seen by some as a very sensible move, reflecting the nature of what a pardon actually is. While this may be true, it is also a measure that is purely symbolic and can’t possible have any effect on public safety.
If the new bill passes then it almost a certainty that the term pardon will be changed for record suspension. But a record suspension will still have the same effect. Interestingly enough in French the correct term for a pardon is “demande de rehabilitation”. It is a term that the general public is largely unaware of. They prefer to use the term “demande de pardon”.
I am fairly certain that if pardons change to record suspensions the same phenomenon will occur in English speaking Canada as that we have already seen in French speaking Canada. After all, a pardon is a term that carries meaning. The term record suspension is somewhat meaningless.
The Conservative omnibus crime bill passed meaning that the term pardon will be change to record suspension in good time. We still aren’t sure when the change will happen since the government has indicated that the various measures contained in the bill will be introduced over time. A record suspension is essentially the same thing as a pardon but some people will no longer be eligible for a record suspension. Those who are still eligible will have to wait longer in order to apply.