Welcome to my Crime and Justice blog! I am a 19 year old criminal justice student at the University of Winnipeg. I advocate for prisoners' rights, human rights, equality and criminal justice/prison system reforms.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Canada's Criminal pardon system

The National Pardon Centre in Calgary has over 6,500 active cases.
Each case represents an applicant who wants his, or her, criminal record sealed.
Birgit Granberg says a pardon can be essential for a convicted person who is looking for work. "So many employers these days are requiring a clear background check and, obviously, the pardon opens that door for someone who has been convicted in the past."
Anyone with a criminal record can apply for a pardon as long as that person wasn't sentenced to life.
The National Parole Board says "The Criminal Records Act does not differentiate pardon applicants by the type of offence they have committed."
That fact has generated a lot of backlash this week after it was learned Graham James was pardoned three years ago.
James served 3.5 years for sexually assaulting two young hockey players including NHL'er Sheldon Kennedy.
"It sends a message this is not a crime of significance, that it can be forgotten," says Ann Marie Tocha, the executive directors of the Alberta Association of Sexual Assault Centres.
In order for a pardon to be approved, applicants must submit fingerprints and prove, through police background checks, that their record since release is spotless.
A pardon does not erase a criminal record though.
What it does do is seal the record so a conviction doesn't show up in a routine background check.
Pardoned sex offenders are still flagged if they apply for a job working with children, the mentally ill, or seniors.
Organizations that provide services to those three groups apply for a more detailed background check, than your average employer, and sex-based offences will still appear even if a pardon is granted.
A pardon will automatically be revoked if a new conviction is laid. 

A former junior hockey star now undergoing therapy in Calgary has added his name to a growing list of players pursuing sexual-abuse charges against ex-coach Graham James.
Sources say the unidentified player, who was NHL-bound until his career collided with the recently pardoned pedophile, has asked police to investigate allegations of sexual abuse during the 1990s, while on a team in Saskatchewan.
James, who has already been convicted of abusing two former players, coached the Swift Current Broncos from 1986 to 1994.
The Calgary complaint follows the recent high-profile accusation of former Calgary Flame Theoren Fleury, who has asked Winnipeg police to charge James with sexual abuse.
And there are reports out of Manitoba that two more former players are seeking charges against James, who coached the Fort Garry Blues in the 1980s.

While convicted sex predator and former junior-hockey coach Graham James may have received an official pardon in 2007, prospective employers would be able to see his criminal record if he tried to work with children.
"What a pardon essentially does is that it buries, in a shallow grave, your criminal record," former prosecutor David Butt told Canada AM Tuesday. "If you have been convicted of sexual offences against children however, that will continue to be something the employer can seek access to."
James, whose current location is unknown, was convicted in 1997 and sentenced to 3.5 years in prison. He was pardoned in 2007, which only became publicly known earlier this week.
A pardon does not erase a person's criminal record, but means that for non-sex offenders, their record is kept separately from the criminal records stored in the Canadian Police Information Centre.
A person convicted of an indictable offence must have five years of good behaviour before they can apply for a pardon, according to the National Parole Board (NPB).
The board does not consider the persons' crimes when making the decision on whether to grant a pardon. However, a person cannot apply for a pardon if you have received life sentence for a crime, such as murder, or have been labelled "dangerous."
"The Criminal Records Act does not differentiate pardon applicants by the type of offence they have committed, nor does it allow the board to refuse to grant a person a pardon based on the nature of their crime," Caroline Douglas, a spokeswoman for the board, said in a statement yesterday.
Pardons can be revoked for the following reasons:
  • If the person is convicted of another offence
  • The NPB finds the person to no longer be in good conduct
  • The board finds a false statement was made in the pardon application
The overwhelming majority of pardon applications are granted. In the 2006-2007 year in which James was pardoned, 14,748 Canadians were pardoned, and only 103 were turned down.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews made an announcement Monday saying the government wants to do away with "rubber stamping" pardons.
"I think there needs to be a little more direction given to the Board in terms of what they can consider overall, and that these things should not just be rubber-stamped," Toews said. "We're taking a look at the legislation to see how we can consider amending (it)."
"I'm actually quite concerned about certain types of sex offenders getting pardons, especially pedophiles," he added. "In my opinion and in my experience, pedophiles are not easily cured." 

The federal government is looking at barring sex criminals from receiving pardons, or at least extending the time they would have to wait before applying.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said Monday the government will seek ways to end "rubber-stamped" applications after revelations that sex-abusing hockey coach Graham James was pardoned by the National Parole Board.
But those who work with offenders say changing the law because of one rogue case is folly that will do more harm than good.
"I think we ought not be running around with our hair on fire every time an institution like the pardon system or the parole system doesn't live up to our expectations," said Craig Jones of the John Howard Society, which helps offenders readjust to society after release.
A pardon does not erase a person's criminal record, but can make it easier for an ex-convict to get a job and travel abroad. In the case of sex offenders, a flag remains on the pardoned offender's file, serving as an alert should they seek work with children or other vulnerable people.
Toews said he was surprised to learn that James, a former junior hockey coach, was granted a pardon from the parole board in 2007 for sexual assaults against two teens, including Sheldon Kennedy, who would go on to play in the National Hockey League.
"I think there needs to be a little more direction given to the board in terms of what they can consider overall, and that these things should not just be rubber-stamped," Toews said Monday as outrage over the James pardon grew.
"We're taking a look at the legislation to see how we can consider amending (it)."
The Canadian Press learned of the James pardon after a previously unknown accuser contacted Winnipeg police. There has been no public comment from James about the allegations, which have not yet led to formal complaint, and the disgraced coach's current whereabouts are unknown.
The pardon sparked indignation across the country -- from hockey parents to the Prime Minister's Office.
A spokesman for Stephen Harper called it a "deeply troubling and gravely disturbing" development that demands an explanation from the parole board.
Though the board operates independently, it would be difficult for the government to claim complete ignorance of the pardon system.
The number of pardon applications has surged since the Conservatives took office, with the board issuing decisions in 40,428 cases in 2008-09 -- up from 14,851 just two years earlier.
All but 800 of the more than 40,000 applications were approved last year.
The growth in applications is partly due to greater scrutiny of potential employees by government, private and voluntary sectors, says the board.
A key element of the current system originated with the Reform party, a forerunner of the Harper government.
In March 1997, Reform MP Chuck Strahl -- now a Conservative cabinet minister -- introduced a private-member's bill that would allow sex offenders to continue to receive pardons but would still flag them in the police records system.
The Liberal government of Jean Chretien, after consulting the provinces and with the support of the Reform party, passed Bill C-7 in 1999, giving Strahl what he wanted.
All but a small segment of criminals, such as dangerous offenders and those serving life sentences, are eligible to apply for a pardon.
Convicts must wait either three or five years after a sentence has been served, depending on the severity of the crime. In weighing applications from people convicted of serious offences, the parole board is obliged to ensure the person has not reoffended and has displayed "good conduct."
Toews suggested the government could decide to extend the waiting period for sex criminals or simply prohibit them from receiving pardons.
"I'm actually quite concerned about certain types of sex offenders getting pardons, especially pedophiles. In my opinion and in my experience, pedophiles are not easily cured," Toews said.
Barring sex offenders from the pardon process gives them one less reason "to continue trying to live right," said Andrew McWhinnie, head of Circles of Support and Accountability, an organization that tries to prevent sexual abusers from committing more crimes.
"They've hurt us in a very deep and personal way, people who have committed sex offences. But I think even at some point they too can be returned to society," he said.
"Most sex offenders do not reoffend. Most sex offenders go on to lead productive lives."
Restricting the pardon process because of the James case makes for poor policy, McWhinnie added.
"We can't rejig an entire system that is working well because something happened that was objectionable.
"We have to move out of the pit of our stomach and into our heads, and think straight and do what's right for the majority of people." 

Another former junior hockey player has come forward to lay a sexual abuse claim against Graham James, CTV Calgary has learned.
The alleged abuse took place in the 1990s while the player was on a Saskatchewan team, and the complaint is being investigated by police.
James was coach of the Swift Current Broncos from 1986 to 1994.
The complainant now lives in Alberta.
The former junior hockey coach was convicted and sentenced to 3 and a half years for sexually abusing two of his former players.
Since that time other players have come forward with complaints, including former NHL star Theoren Fleury.
James made national headlines this week when it came to light he was pardoned in 2007.
His current location is unknown.

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