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.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pardon reforms worry ex-offenders

Critics of the federal Tories’ proposed legislation to ban sex offenders and chronic repeat offenders from getting pardons don’t seem to understand the objective of the bill.
Groups like cons-helpingcons.com say 97% of pardoned offenders don’t re-offend and therefore the group concludes the existing system “is working.” It’s an irrelevant statistic, actually, at least for this issue.
The objective of changing the term “pardon” to “record suspension” and to restrict who is eligible to apply for one has nothing to do with recidivism.
It has to do with restoring public confidence in our broken justice system. It has to do with granting the victims of crime the respect and consideration they deserve. It also has to do with the public’s right to know when a sex offender or a repeat chronic offender applies for a position when a criminal record check is required.
I couldn’t care less if 97% of pardoned cons don’t re-offend. Way to go. We expect you not to re-offend. It’s not something you get rewarded for. Nice job, here’s a lollipop.
Killer Karla Homolka should never get a pardon. Pedophile Graham James should never have received a pardon. When criminals like them get pardons, it brings the administration of justice into disrepute.
“While some offenders may never be convicted of a re-offence, that doesn’t negate offender accountability for having committed a crime, nor does it change the fact that granting them a ‘pardon’ sends a terrible message to the victims of their crimes and to Canadians, overall,” said Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. “Granting a pardon implies that what the person did is somehow OK, or is forgiven, or that the harm done has somehow disappeared.”
Exactly. That’s why government is proposing to do away with the word “pardon.” And it’s also why under the new rules — we’ll call it the Graham James Law — there will be stricter limits on who is eligible. That’s for the victims — remember them? — and it’s one of many steps required to start restoring public faith in our justice system.
Besides, it’s not like offenders will no longer be eligible for record suspensions.
If you’re a sex offender, you’ll never get one. And if you commit four or more indictable offences (I reported three last week but I was wrong, it’s four) you’ll never get one. And you shouldn’t.
Personally, I think after two indictable offences — those are the more serious crimes — you should never get one because you blew your “second chance.” So the Tories are being quite lenient actually.
“Under the new amendments the overwhelming number of offenders will still be eligible to qualify for a record suspension,” said Toews.
Can you imagine how the family of a homicide victim or a rape victim feels when the criminal who ruined their life gets a “pardon?” It’s outrageous, actually.
This change is long overdue, Graham James or not.
The real issue now is to try to get opposition MPs on board. We have a minority government and the opposition has the power to kill this bill.
My advice to all Canadians is to get on the phone and talk to your MP and tell them how you would like them to vote on this proposed legislation. Send e-mails, start petitions, write letters to the editor. MPs work for you, it’s not the other way around.
Don’t let future scumbags like Graham James get pardoned.
Just say no.

I disagree with the proposed legislation to the pardon system. With a criminal record, comes the increased probability of recidivism, resulting from the frustrations of unemployment as a record severely limits opportunities. This would only make society more dangerous. If these individuals cannot find meaningful work, it's likely they will resort back to their criminal ways. Employment and education are the two things that have been proven to significantly reduce re-offending rates. We need to have pardons and not limit eligibility if want a safer society which fosters rehabilitation and successful reintegration. These offenders have already served time in prison which was their punishment, and they don't need to be punished any further. People can and do change and we need to give them that chance. 

Neal Cornish had it all planned.
He would finish his bachelor of nursing degree and hit the job market next spring — around the time he was eligible to apply for a pardon for two minor criminal convictions.
But the 34-year-old Winnipeg man is angry that changes to the pardon system announced by the Conservative government last week may force him to wait another two years.
“It puts me at a marked disadvantage,” Cornish said.
Without a pardon to wipe the slate clean, his two convictions are bound to come up in job interviews, and could affect his prospects, he said.
In the late 1990s, Cornish was convicted of possessing stolen jewellery and a stolen car licence plate.
He finished paying off his court-ordered restitution two years ago, and it was only then that the clock started ticking on the three years he must wait before he is eligible to apply for a pardon.
But under a bill tabled by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, he would have to wait five years, not three.
“The Canadian government had given me the means to rejoin society if I did the work, which I have done. So why now are you saying, ‘Okay, you did the work but we got to punish you a little bit more?’ ”
The reforms were quickly drafted by the Conservative government, reacting to the news that former hockey coach Graham James was pardoned three years ago for his sex abuse convictions.
The changes would permanently bar anyone convicted of a sexual crime against a minor, or with more than three serious “indictable” offences, from applying.
All other offenders seeking a pardon, to be renamed a “record suspension,” would have to wait 10 years before applying for indictable offences, up from five.
Those with the less serious “summary convictions,” like Cornish, would have to wait for five years to apply, up from three.
Although Cornish thinks that by tapping into the contacts he has cultivated he will still get a job, others with criminal records may not be so fortunate.
“There’s nothing of consequence that anybody can do that they don’t ask you that question: Do you have a criminal record?” Cornish said. “Once you say ‘yes’ that puts you in line for discrimination.”
All pardon applications made before the changes come into force will be dealt with under the old, more lenient rules, the government announced.
That has heightened interest in pardons.
Andrew Tanenbaum, program director at Pardons Canada, a non-profit agency that helps people obtain pardons, said their phones are “considerably busier.”
The proposed legislation could take some time, he said, “So I don’t think people should start panicking that they’re not going to get their pardon at this point.”
James Balkwill, 50, who was convicted in 1999 of assaulting and sexually assaulting his then-wife, has been trying to overturn his convictions ever since. As a result, the Leamington man avoided applying for a pardon, thinking that would be tantamount to admitting guilt.
But because of the proposed changes, he intends to apply for a pardon before he is caught by the new timelines. “At least in some small way, it may make my life better,” he said.
Balkwill, who survives by doing odd jobs, said he has been turned down for employment because of his convictions. “People don’t understand how limiting it is.”
Michael Carabash, a Toronto lawyer who has written a book on criminal records, takes issue with the government making people wait longer, which he thinks could do more harm than good.
“I don’t know if government has any particular reason on why they want to make people wait longer, other than making the government look tough on crime.”
Not having a pardon means that people with convictions remain exposed to discrimination after they’ve done their sentence, he said.
This is strictly prohibited by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which says that once you’ve been convicted and punished for a crime, you’re not to be tried or punished for it again, he said.
Craig Jones, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada, calls the changes typical of the Conservative government’s “opportunistic” justice reforms. “They are characterized by a kind of reactive emotionalism driven by populist sensationalism. This is tinkering gone crazy.”
Defence lawyer Emma Rhodes said targeting murderers and sex offenders could have been reached by tweaking the current laws.
“It's hitting a fly with a sledgehammer,” she said.

Canada has a system of pardons for convicted criminals that is too forgiving and too mechanical, especially for serious, violent offenders. It is a good thing to promote integration, but the spirit of the law – that pardons are reserved for those who demonstrate “good conduct” – does not seem to be reflected in practice.
The pardons system is opaque and seems little understood, even among academics well versed in criminal law. Unlike criminal-court rulings, the decisions of the National Parole Board to grant or deny a pardon are not available to the public. Canadians have no way of knowing what checks the board made before ascertaining that Graham James, the former junior hockey coach convicted of sexually abusing two players, had shown good conduct for the previous five years. (Public Safety Minister Vic Toews promised yesterday, in the wake of the James pardon, to introduce a new law in the fall. He did not give details.) In the past two years, only 41 sex offenders who applied for a pardon were rejected, out of 1,554 who applied. A pardon has become a candy picked out of a restaurant basket, available nearly to all – perhaps even Karla Homolka, convicted of manslaughter in the killings of three schoolgirls, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said yesterday.
If anyone is in a position to know how much scrutiny occurs before sex offenders or other violent criminals receive a pardon, it is Pardons Canada, a federal non-profit agency of more than 20 years' standing. “As far as we know, what good conduct essentially means is that they have not been in trouble with the police, very simply,” says Andrew Tanenbaum, the program director. That means no new crimes or charges for three or five years (depending on the seriousness of the crime), and no “police incidents” that may have resulted, for instance, in calls to a house or dropped charges.
Lawyer Fergus O'Connor of Kingston, Ont., who wrote a textbook with a section on the subject, explained that when he has clients seeking a pardon, they “would have to provide evidence of their good character and their good conduct during the time in question.” For instance, they may provide supporting letters from neighbours or employers, much as convicted people do in sentencing hearings. “Sometimes I've had clients give my name as a reference.” Still, that is different from original legwork being done by, or on behalf of, the parole board. It used to be that the RCMP would contact neighbours, employers and others to check up on applicants for pardons, according to Toronto lawyer Michael Carabash, who is writing a book on pardons. The decision to grant or deny a pardon belonged, until 1992, to a special committee of cabinet, based on a recommendation from the parole board. It is now entirely within the board's purview.
The board explained its scrutiny this way yesterday, in an e-mail: “If the case contains one or more indictable convictions, the case is classified by category of the seriousness of the offence convicted. Depending on the seriousness and harm caused by an offence, the more in-depth is the investigation (for sexual offence cases, two Board members vote instead of one, and additional calls are made to police services where the applicant resides to determine if additional information exists.)” Good conduct appears to mean an absence of known bad conduct. The term “pardon” implies more thought has gone into it than that.
The relevant law, the Criminal Records Act, should be rewritten so that more scrutiny is brought to bear on all those who commit especially serious or damaging crimes. This would include sex offenders such as Mr. James, whose criminal records are reportedly not being flagged as they were designed to be for children's protection. Pardons should not be a routine, mechanical affair.

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