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

Graham James Pardon Part 3

OTTAWA — Graham James’ crimes may be heinous and his pardon upsetting, but some experts and MPs caution not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
“Giving someone the incentive of staying clean for three or five years and then obtaining a pardon is a tool that I think has got a very important use.” said the NDP’s Don Davies, who agreed Graham’s pardon was “shocking.”
The John Howard Society of Canada, a crime and prison reform advocacy group that has a link on its homepage for offenders to apply for a pardon, “strongly advises” people with a criminal record to apply for one.
“It recognizes that people can and do change and become productive members of the community,” reads the Ontario branch’s website.
And just because 98% of offenders who apply for a pardon receive one from the National Parole Board doesn’t mean the system is flawed.
Offenders who aren’t likely to get one, or those who don’t want a parole board investigation to make public a criminal record they’ve kept under wraps likely wouldn’t apply, argues Anthony Doob, a criminology professor at the University of Toronto.
Canadian courts register more than 200,000 convictions a year, while less than 40,000 pardons were granted last year.
Also, according to National Parole Board statistics, 96% of all offenders pardoned don’t re-offend. 

In response to news that former hockey coach Graham James received a pardon for sex offences in 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper asked Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to introduce changes to the pardon system that will put "the public's safety first."
This sounds good, but it seems to rest on the assumption that the current system doesn't emphasize public safety. And if that assumption is wrong, then any proposals that depart from the current system might well make the public less safe.
At present, people convicted of an offence can apply for a pardon a few years after they have completed their sentences. Those convicted of relatively minor (summary conviction) offences must wait three years, and those convicted of more serious (indictable) offences -- such as James -- must wait five years.
Upon receiving a pardon application, the National Parole Board must confirm that the applicant has not been convicted of any further offences. If so, the board is required to issue a pardon to those convicted of summary conviction offences.
If an applicant has been convicted of an indictable offence, the board must also determine if the applicant "has been of good conduct," and this requires looking not only at criminal convictions, but at charges that have been withdrawn, stayed or dismissed, at convictions under non-criminal provincial statutes such as those governing traffic safety, and at suspected or alleged criminal behaviour.
Assuming the applicant passes all these tests, the board will typically grant a pardon. A pardon can also be revoked or cease to have effect if the person is convicted of a further offence, ceases to be of good conduct or if further information suggests the pardon should not have been granted.
Upon receiving a pardon, a person's criminal record is not erased, but is removed from the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC), which means that it will not show up when an RCMP officer searches CPIC. This does not apply to local police forces, though they often cooperate by restricting access to a criminal record if a pardon has been granted.
Certainly, a pardon can be of benefit to the person who receives it, because many employers now subject applicants to a criminal record check. Yet the entire process is clearly designed with public safety in mind.
The extensive background checks are conducted to ensure the applicant no longer represents a threat to the public.
And since offenders who are successful in gaining employment are much less likely to reoffend, pardons can help to reduce rates of recidivism, and reduce the chance that offenders will rely on social assistance.
The success of the pardon system is evident from the statistics: Since 1970, more than 400,000 people have received pardons, and 96 per cent of these are still in effect, meaning the vast majority of pardon recipients remain crime-free.
That said, many people suggest that sex offenders ought to be treated differently, given their high rates of recidivism.
And so they are: While the records of pardoned sex offenders are kept separate, sex offenders' names are flagged in the CPIC computer system. This means that, unlike other offenders, a sex offender's record can be made available to an employer should the offender wish to work with children or other vulnerable people.
This is a measured response to the problem, as it protects children while also improving the chances that the offender will find gainful employment. And these both protect public safety.
Yet Toews wants to depart from this system by making it tougher for sex offenders to obtain a pardon.
How does this put the public's safety first? It doesn't. In fact, it does quite the opposite: Despite the superficial appeal of such ideas, diminishing an offender's chances of getting a job will only increase the probability that the offender will reoffend.
The problem here is that people are simply expecting too much of the system. If people really want to eliminate the scourge of child abuse, they need to focus on stopping it before it starts, rather than on making it more difficult for sex offenders to reform.
The pardon system, after all, can only play a small role in improving public safety. And it happens to be playing that role well.

Many people seem shocked the National Parole Board issued a pardon to Graham James.
James is the former junior hockey coach who sexually abused at least two of his players. He was convicted of sexual assault and given a three-and-a-half year sentence in 1997.
The Prime Minister’s Office has called the pardon “deeply troubling and gravely disturbing” and has expressed apparent shock at having only learned of the pardon three years later. A PMO spokesman felt it necessary to tell us the pardon was granted “without our government’s consent or knowledge.”
That’s pretty obvious since the Parole Board is an independent agency.
Well, I’m not shocked.
In 2008-2009 the Parole Board issued 39,628 pardons. In the last five years some 111,769 pardons were issued. Due to privacy concerns the names of those pardoned are not published, and the Parole Board is not required to and does not seek the government’s consent or knowledge.
Very few applications for a pardon are rejected. That’s because the conditions for a successful pardon application are easy to satisfy.
Persons convicted of summary conviction offences — lesser offences — can apply for a pardon three years after having served their sentence and paid any fines.
A pardon must be granted unless the applicant has subsequently been convicted of a federal crime. Someone convicted of a more serious indictable offence must wait five years before applying, but the granting of a pardon is discretionary — but the reality is almost all applications are approved.
With all the outrage over James’ pardon one thing seems to have been overlooked: A pardon does not erase a criminal conviction.
James is still considered to have a criminal record and, subject to defamation laws, may still be labelled a pedophile. Also, many foreign countries, including the United States, don’t recognize Canadian pardons.
So why all the outrage?
Much has to do with making political points. It’s opportunistic to express outrage. But I suspect there’s some confusion fuelling the outrage. The confusion likely arises from the fact there are two types of pardons: The Parole Board pardons that don’t erase a conviction and the pardons granted by cabinet. Cabinet issued pardons are the real thing. A cabinet issued pardon erases the criminal conviction(s).
If you receive a cabinet pardon you are deemed “never to have committed the offence.”
At this point you are probably wondering how you can obtain one of these cabinet pardons. Don’t hold your breath, folks. In the last year for which statistics have been released there were 21 requests for a cabinet pardon but only four granted.
Cabinet pardons are supposed to be issued only in cases of substantial injustice or undue hardship. Now if James had received a cabinet pardon that would be something we could express legitimate outrage over.
Still, the word “pardon” in itself connotes the act of forgiveness. When we pardon somebody we are forgiving them for their acts. There’s something odd in having the Parole Board issue forgiveness for certain types of conduct like sex assault or murder. Surely, it should be up to the victims or their families to determine whether to grant forgiveness.
It’s time the government looked into its system of Parole Board pardons and whether a program in which virtually all applications are successful and almost 40,000 applications are granted in one year serves any real public purpose. 

I completely agree with the first article in that the pardon system is already successful as only 3% re-offend, so why is it in need of change? Sex offenders are already treated differently by the system by having their names flagged. Tougher laws do not put public safety first. Diminishing the offender's chance of getting a job will only increase the probability that they will re-offend. 

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