A pardon is issued by the government and can mask a criminal record from those who try to access it. With a pardon, people with criminal records and who lead law-abiding lives can more easily access housing, employment, volunteer opportunities and education. Recently, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, the Honourable Bill Blair, introduced Bill C-31: An Act to amend the Criminal Records Act and Make consequential amendments to other Acts. The intention behind the proposed amendments is to reduce obstacles for people with criminal records to apply for pardons while maintaining public safety.
There are three key amendments that are being proposed:
- For those who served their sentence for a summary offence, the wait period for obtaining a pardon would be reduced to three years. For those who served their sentence for an indictable offence, the wait period for obtaining a pardon would be reduced to five years. These will be shorter waiting periods compared to the current five and ten years, respectively. These are generalizations because, according to the Criminal Records Act and other Acts, there may be further restrictions depending on the offence;
- Payment of fines or other monetary penalties included in a sentence would not restart the waiting period. This means that the respective wait period to obtain a pardon can start even if the fine or other amount are outstanding. Currently, the wait period does not start until the fine or other amount has been paid even if the rest of the sentence is completed; and
- The current ineligibility for a pardon for individuals with more than three indictable offences will be removed. Currently, adults convicted of more than three indictable offences, each resulting in a sentence of two or more years, are not eligible to apply for a pardon.
Three Government actions accompanying these possible changes
Along with these proposed amendments, the federal government also aims to reduce the application fee to as low as $50 (from $657.77), invest in program modernization for the Parole Board of Canada’s programs (including developing a new online portal to make the application process more efficient), and provide $22.2 million over five years for community based organizations to offer support services for people who are applying for pardons and to increase awareness of these support services and of the Parole Board of Canada’s role.
The amendments and government actions mentioned in this article do not show the full picture and are not currently in effect. As the bill goes through the stages, it will be interesting to see what happens.