Offenders convicted of serious crimes can apply five years after finishing their sentences, provided they have been law-abiding citizens during that time. Less-serious offenders need wait only three years. The federal concession permits those who have paid their debt to society to travel.
"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," the board said in the statement yesterday.
Dimitri Soudas, a spokesman for the Prime Minister, criticized the parole board for pardoning Mr. James and failing to tell the government about it.
"The actions of this convicted sex offender shocked the conscience of a nation -- one where the bond of trust between coaches and players in our national game is sacred," Mr. Soudas said yesterday. "The Prime Minister has asked for explanation on how the National Parole Board can pardon someone who committed such horrific crimes that remain shocking to all Canadians."
Former Calgary Flames captain Theoren Fleury claimed in a memoir last year that he too was sexually abused by Mr. James, and he went to police earlier this year. Mr. James has not been criminally charged following the latest allegations. Mr. James served as a junior hockey coach from 1984-1997 with the Western Hockey League's Moose Jaw Warriors, Swift Current Broncos and Calgary Hitmen. His whereabouts are unknown.
Tories vow to crack down on pardon system
The Harper government is vowing to force the National Parole Board to stop rubber stamping tens of thousands of annual requests from criminals seeking a pardon and a clean slate.
The number of criminals receiving pardons has increased fourfold over the past decade as more employers conduct criminal background checks and more companies offer their services to help have the records expunged.
The trend came to light after the weekend revelation that sexual abuser Graham James was pardoned for his repeated crimes against teenaged hockey players in the 1980s and 1990s.
The pardon so angered Prime Minister Stephen Harper that he called Public Safety Minister Vic Toews on Friday demanding new legislation to limit the practice.
“The Prime Minister doesn’t call me every day, and he doesn’t call me on Good Friday because he has nothing else to do. He is very concerned about this issue,” Mr. Toews said. (Canadian Press reported the story on Sunday, and called the Prime Minister’s Office for comment earlier.)
Mr. Toews said the government will quickly prepare legislation to limit pardons for serious offences, in particular those of a sexual nature, while keeping the current practice for cases such as impaired drivers.
“Certain types of criminals cannot be rehabilitated,” Mr. Toews said, adding that he wants the “pattern of criminal activity” to be considered before the National Parole Board issues a pardon.
The independent Parole Board admitted its powerlessness in the current system, saying in a statement that it has “very little discretion in the granting or refusal of a pardon” and can’t “differentiate pardon applicants by the type of offence they have committed.”
Still, the John Howard Society, which helps offenders readjust to society after release, called for caution.
“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 spokesman Craig Jones.
Since 1970, there have been 10,000 pardons a year, on average. The number went up to 15,000 in 2006, and has now reached 40,000 a year, with a rejection rate of 1 per cent to 2 per cent.
To remove their criminal record from public view, applicants have to wait three to five years after serving their sentence and show that they have conducted themselves appropriately during that period.