First, a person who abuses a position of trust and authority to sexually assault a minor is despicable. And the crime -- especially if it is repeated over time with a succession of victims -- is one that is as close to being unpardonable as most of us can imagine.
Second, tabs need to be kept on such a predator, since experience and common sense tell us there is a risk of reoffending, and that society will share the blame if it does not take steps to ensure more vulnerable young people are not taken advantage of by someone known to have this particular screw loose.
Next, let's go over a few things we can all agree on about what should happen with criminals in general after they have served their time.
For starters, we don't want them to be a permanent financial burden on the state, especially after we have spent a fortune investigating them, giving them a fair trial, incarcerating them and then monitoring them during their parole period.
On the contrary, we would like them to get a job, pay taxes and support themselves. Of course, we'd like them to make some form of restitution to society, starting with a convincing demonstration of remorse. But as a minimum, we don't want to ever see them in the justice system again, whether it be a repeat of the original offence or any other illegal activity.
So then: How does this rough consensus help us evaluate a part of the justice system so unfortunately -- and misleadingly to many ears -- covered by the word "pardon"?
If it was meant to convey the first definition offered by the Oxford Concise Dictionary -- forgiveness -- Canadians would rightly be burying Stephen Harper's government in mail asking why the law would allow such a dispensation to be given to a sex offender who has never even apologized to his victims, and what business it was of the Parole Board to forgive James on society's behalf.
But the kind of pardon involved here is the Oxford Concise's second definition -- remission of legal consequences of crime or conviction -- and even then it is only partial. The person granted this legal "pardon" still has a criminal record, and in the case of a sex offender, still has his name on the appropriate registry.
The key thing about a pardon -- available to anyone who has not been in legal trouble for five years -- is that it makes it easier to find a job by allowing the person to claim on an employment application that he has no criminal conviction. And even then, a pardoned sex offender is flagged if he seeks a job that involves children or other vulnerable people.