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

Tories target pardon system

Tories target pardon system; overhaul likely after pedophile's record cleared

The days of sex offenders like Graham James being able to virtually wipe their records clean appear numbered as the Harper Tories took aim Monday at overhauling the country's pardon system.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said he will look at whether sex offenders and repeat violent offenders should have to wait longer than the current five years, after serving their sentences, to receive pardons for their crimes. Toews will also consider whether they should fall into a category of offenders who are excluded.

And a revamping of one of the more controversial parts of the Canadian justice system couldn't come fast enough for both Theoren Fleury, who has accused James of assaulting him, and a Winnipeg-based expert on pardons.

"The system doesn't work. We pride ourselves on being a nation where kids can walk the streets and play freely. Then we just basically throw that all out the window with this sort of thing," Fleury, the former National Hockey League player, told the Free Press.

Fleury was outraged to learn this past weekend that James, his former junior hockey coach, was pardoned in 2007 for sexual assaults against two former players. James was convicted in 1997 and sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison. Winnipeg police recently opened a new investigation against James after Fleury came forward -- first in a tell-all memoir and then with a formal complaint -- alleging he was also a victim. No new charges have been filed to date.

"These kinds of guys can't be rehabilitated and always reoffend," said Fleury. "(A pardon means) they're standing out there like a peacock, with their feathers all out, saying 'I can do whatever I want.'"

Pardons do not erase criminal records. However, they are kept separate from other criminal records, so that they are rendered virtually invisible.

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 only wait three years.

The federal concession permits those who have paid their debt to society to travel, find jobs and qualify for housing. Human-rights laws prohibit discrimination against pardoned offenders.

Lucy Perillo, the president of Winnipeg-based Canada Border Crossing Services, said she wasn't surprised to hear James had been pardoned. But she admits the system makes it far too easy for people like him -- child predators with multiple victims -- to make a successful application. The only real test is proving you have stayed out of trouble for at least five years following your release from jail. All criminals can apply for a pardon, with the exception of anyone given a life sentence for a crime such as murder.

"The legislation, as currently written, says he qualified. But there is always room for improvement, and it would probably be wise to (make it more difficult) for people like this," said Perillo.

She has spent the past 16 years seeking pardons for her clients, usually because they are having trouble finding jobs because of their criminal past. Perillo said others want to travel out of Canada without fear of being denied. Perillo said James would likely have no trouble entering most countries and could truthfully say he has no criminal record when clearing customs or applying for employment. The one exception is the United States, where people must apply for a separate waiver that gives them similar powers to a pardon.

"There are a lot of countries in the world that wouldn't have any knowledge of his record," said Perillo.

James was one of 14,748 Canadian criminals who were given a pardon in 2007 by a panel of National Parole Board members, according to federal statistics. Only 103 people who applied were rejected. The parole board is under no obligation to publicize who they pardon or why they granted the request.

"The National Parole Board owes us an explanation -- and the Prime Minister owes us an overhaul," Roz Prober, founder of the Winnipeg-based Beyond Borders child advocacy agency, said.

"It just takes your breath away. What these kind of devious, non-repentent people want is anonymity. And that's what the parole board has given him. They've wiped the slate clean and told him off you go. We know these type of people often travel to other countries to get sexually involved with children."

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.

Toews signalled that overhaul is coming, saying the Conservative government will consider changes that would make it more difficult for people like James to erase their criminal past.

"I think there needs to be a little more direction given to the (National Parole) Board in terms of what they can consider overall, and that these things should not just be rubber-stamped," Toews said. "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 suggested the government could decide to ban sex criminals from receiving pardons or extend the time they would have to wait before applying.

Fleury believes James is currently living in Montreal but has no idea if he's working. James previously spent time coaching hockey in Spain following his release from prison.

"This is typical of how the system works. The majority of the country knows that. Now let's see some action," said Fleury.

He wasn't surprised to hear that another former player has recently come forward and claimed he was abused by James while playing for him in 1979 in Winnipeg. The man -- who spoke to The Canadian Press but was not identified -- has not yet filed a formal complaint with police.
-- with files from The Canadian Press and Canwest News Service

Hearings held behind closed doors

Who decides whether a pardon is granted?

A panel of National Parole Board members, whose identities are not disclosed publicly.

Is their reasoning available to the public?

No. Unlike a decision to grant parole -- in which reasons and conditions are made public -- there is no such process for pardons. The hearings are held behind closed doors. Applicants are given reasons only if they are denied a pardon. No reasons are given for successful bids.

Does a pardon last forever?

A pardon can be revoked if someone is convicted of new offences.

Who can get a pardon?

Any convicted criminal, other than someone who has been given a life sentence on a charge such as first- or second-degree murder.

What criteria are used to decide if a pardon is granted?

Applicants must have been out of custody for at least five years (for indictable offences) and 3 years for summary offences. They must have avoided any conflicts with the law during their time in the community.

What does a pardon allow you to do?

Pardoned people can apply for jobs and truthfully state they have no criminal record. They can also enter most countries without fear of being turned away. The exception is the United States, where a Canadian crim­inal must apply for a separate document called a waiver, which is similar to a pardon.

This article appears to be biased. It starts with the title saying "overhaul likely after pedophile's record cleared." This is misleading and will cause public uproar, but nowhere in the article, is there a statement saying that Graham James was diagnosed with pedophilia. Another problem, is that his record is not "cleared" as the title suggests. The record still remains, it is just kept separate after a pardon. This article also does not give balanced attention to both sides of the issue and only quotes people who say they are AGAINST the pardon, not in favour of it. This article gives the public the misleaded perception that pardons should not be granted to all sex offenders, when really, there are other sides to the issue, which are not mentioned, causing the public to react in outrage!

Sex offenders should not be excluded from being granted a pardon, because this is not in the interests of "public safety," as the government claims it is. With a criminal record, comes the stigma of being labelled as "deviant" or a "criminal" for the rest of their lives. This can be damaging when attempting to apply for jobs, after many of these offenders have become law abiding and productive members of society and have not re-offended since being released from prison or since being granted a pardon. If these individuals cannot secure jobs, it will likely increase the probability of re-offending and of needing social assistance in life.

Further, Graham James committed two sexual assaults, plead guilty and served his sentence of 3 and a half years in prison. He has done his time and paid his debts to society. He has not re-offended since his release and there is no reason why he SHOULDN'T have been granted a pardon. People do and can change.

I honestly don't see anything about the system that needs to be changed. 97% of individuals granted pardons since 1970, have been successful in leading law abiding lives and not re-offending. Only 3% have re-offended. I would say that these statistics, clearly demonstrate that the system is working fine as it is! Sex offenders are already treated more harshly by the pardon system, as their names are still flagged on CPIC when applying for a job that involves children or vulnerable persons.

If these people have been law abiding and have changed, they should have the right to get a good job without having to worry  about a past criminal record, be free to travel and to qualify for housing.

If they do happen to re-offend (which isn't likely), their pardon can be revoked. So I don't see what the problem is, or why people are in an uproar about this!!


  1. While I respect your right to have an opinion Brit, I think you need to scale back making such grandoise statements about these issues. For one - you are a first year student with A LOT to learn. Your opinions are very strong, and you have to remember you need to be open minded to learn. Also - this is the internet. When you go on to become a professional in this area I have no doubts your character could be called into question for some of the opinions you've expressed because someone will find a blog, or a profile or what have you. And keep in mind if you ever get into journalism, for example - you need to remain impartial on some of this stuff.

    Personally - the fact the Graham James has been pardoned is fucking deplorable, and the only reason he may not re-offend is because he won't be in a job that allows him to do so. That's not being rehabed, that's being a victim of circumstance.

    I'm not knocking you, or your writing - I'm just saying you may need to consider some of the things you say.

  2. Yes, I am a first year student, but trust me, I have done extensive research into this issue, among others. That's not an indicator of my knowledge.

    I understand that I have strong opinions and I don't see a problem with it, honestly. I don't want to get into journalism, except maybe writing for comments sections. I would love to become a defence lawyer.

    Personally, I think society needs to give Graham James a second chance. He served his sentence and should not have to carry around the burden of a criminal record, which limits his opportunities, if he hasn't re-offended. If he does happen to re-offend, the pardon can be revoked.

    I understand why many people feel the way you do, but it's just not logical to me.

    Thanks for the feedback though.