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 4

The Harper government, seizing on the case of notorious hockey coach Graham James, says it is considering a new law that will make it harder or even impossible for sex offenders to secure pardons from the National Parole Board after serving their sentences.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said he is on orders from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who called him on Good Friday after learning of Mr. James's 2007 pardon.
"According to the law, Graham James is entitled to his pardon and that's the issue we should look at -- is the law appropriate in this case?" Mr. Toews told Canwest News Service yesterday.
"There are clearly certain types of offenders that I have concerns about ... and sex offenders do fit in that category."
Parole board officials would not comment specifically on the James case yesterday, though they noted that the process does not differentiate applicants by the type of crime they have committed, nor does it allow them to refuse an applicant "based on the nature of their crime."
Mr. Toews said he will look at rewriting the law so that sex offenders, pedophiles and others who have a troubled history of rehabilitation do not receive "rubber-stamped" pardons, as is the case.
Another possibility is that they could be excluded altogether, as is the case with offenders convicted of crimes garnering life or indeterminate sentences, he said.
"Is a 19-year-old kid who receives a conviction for an impaired driving offence and then serves his sentence, waits the five years and applies because he wants to get in a police force, should he be treated the same way as a serial offender like a rapist, like a pedophile?" asked Mr. Toews, who is responsible for the National Parole Board.
"In my opinion there is a substantive difference between the offender, the nature of the offences and the difficulties involved in, if I can say cure, for a sex offender."
Mr. James, 58, was sentenced to 3½ years in prison in 1997 after he pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy and another unidentified player about 350 times over 10 years.
Mr. Kennedy, a vocal spokesman against sexual abuse, said he thinks pardons should be denied to applicants who have not acknowledged the pain they have caused their victims.
Mr. James, who went on to coach hockey in Spain after his release from prison, has never apologized, nor has he shown remorse, Mr. Kennedy said yesterday. "I see this as a platform for some discussions to happen around this issue, which is how change happens," Mr. Kennedy told the National Post in a telephone interview.
He went on to say that he is not outraged by the revelation of Mr. James' plea. "People almost want me to be outraged. I'm definitely concerned -- I'm concerned about our youth, I'm concerned about the opportunities Graham has to be in front of young people around this world," he said. "But I don't think things happen when people are outraged. It doesn't mean I don't have a strong feeling towards what's happened, but I'm really looking forward to challenging the system for change to happen."

Pardons do not erase criminal records. However, they are kept separate from other criminal records, so that they are rendered virtually invisible, although authorities noted that sex offences are expunged from a person's record. The National Parole Board yesterday issued a statement that noted "in the case of criminal records of persons pardoned for sexual offences, these are flagged in the Canadian Police Information Centre, allowing for these records to be disclosed in screening individuals for positions of trust with children and other vulnerable persons."
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.
Mr. James was convicted of sexual assault in 1997. He received a 3 1/2-year prison sentence, and was granted a pardon from the National Parole Board in 2007. The pardon allowed him to travel or look for a job more easily, with his record disclosed only if he was applying to work with children.
“In the case of criminal records of persons pardoned for sexual offences, these are flagged in the Canadian Police Information Centre [CPIC], allowing for these records to be disclosed in screening individuals for positions of trust with children and other vulnerable persons,” the Parole Board said in a statement.
Mr. Toews said there is no way to revoke Mr. James’s pardon, and that he is focusing on the future. “I’m more concerned about looking at the broader issue of how pardons are granted and the legislative provisions governing that decision,” Mr. Toews said, vowing to consult with his department and victims’ and police groups.
However, he said he will not politicize matters by involving himself in the approval process for the tens of thousands of annual requests for pardons.
“The option is legislative change [involving the Criminal Records Act] rather than changing who makes the determination,” he said.
The Liberal Party said it is willing to co-operate with the government on changes to the pardon mechanism for “serious and grave” crimes. However, Liberal MP Mark Holland said he hopes the government is not “playing politics with crime.”
Mr. Holland said the Harper government has failed too often in recent years to guide its tough-on-crime agenda through Parliament and into law.
“They are more interested in the politics of crime than they are in finding solutions,” he said.
NDP MP Don Davies also said he is open to reforming the pardon system, while urging MPs to avoid a “knee-jerk reaction” to the latest news.

OTTAWA—The Conservative government is promising to make it tougher for some convicted criminals – including sexual offenders – to get a pardon following the controversial redemption of a hockey coach who abused his players.
“The fact that one offence is treated the same as another offence is quite disturbing,” Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said in an interview Monday.
The Canadian Press reported Sunday that Graham James, 58, a junior coach convicted of sexually abusing his players, was quietly granted a pardon by the National Parole Board three years ago.
James pleaded guilty to sexual assault after two of his former adolescent players, including former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy, recounted stories of abuse from 1984 to 1995.
James, now 58, was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison in 1997.
The Canadian Press reported James was pardoned Jan. 8, 2007 and said the news came to light when a new accuser – who was never coached by James but said he was targeted in 1979-80 – discussed his own allegations with Winnipeg police.
Toews said Prime Minister Stephen Harper called him up last Friday and asked him to propose reforms to the National Parole Board.
He said he reviewed the National Parole Board decision and found nothing inappropriate, but the current law makes it harder for members to deny a pardon.
The changes he hopes to introduce by this fall could include allowing the National Parole Board greater discretion when deciding whether to grant a pardon and make a distinction between those convicted of sexual and violent crimes and other types of crimes.
“It did come as quite a surprise that no distinctions are made between less serious indictable offences and more serious indictable offences,” Toews said. “I think there is a distinction to be made between a break and enter where the dwelling place isn’t occupied … and a rape.”
He said changes that will be studied could include making those types of offenders wait longer than five years before they are eligible to apply for a pardon, or excluding them from the right to request a pardon at all.
“Pedophiles especially are very difficult to rehabilitate, if ever, and given that is the case, should pardons be granted in respect of certain types of offences? Those are issues that I think need to be examined,” Toews said.
Toews said he would not suggest requiring ministerial approval for the roughly 35,000 applications processed each year, as he would not want to “politicize” the process.
Toews also said the department would study how to involve victims in the process.
A pardon effectively removes information about a criminal record from the public domain to make it easier for people who have served their sentences to get a job or travel.
Someone convicted of serious sex offences would still have a flag pop up when their name is run through a law enforcement database called the Canadian Police Information Centre for when an offender is applying for a job involving children or other vulnerable people.

I do not think that we need to change the laws! Sex offenders are already treated differently when granted pardons and have their names flagged. 96% of pardon cases are successful, so why the need to change? If people have been law abiding, they have a right to apply for a pardon. 

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