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.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Conservatives' pardon bill could incite more crime and less safe communities!

Yellowknife, N.W.T. - The Conservative government wants to make it more difficult for people to receive pardons from past criminal offences.
According to some advocacy groups, the new bill in front of the House of Commons could be detrimental for people trying to get a new lease on life. Here in Yellowknife, the executive director of the John Howard Society, Lydia Bardak, says if the bill is passed, it could be devastating to some people's careers."Somebody for example, say they're in their 40s, and 20-25 years ago they had an impaired driving charge or simple possession of marijuana charge," she says, "now if they haven't had their pardon, that criminal record from way back for something that hasn't reoccurred in their life is holding them back from obtaining a job or maybe being promoted or going into other kinds of work."Bardak says the current pardon system has a 96 per cent success rate, so the Feds shouldn't tamper with it."The fear is if you're putting barriers for employment in front of people, then you are setting up a situation where you're putting them more at risk of re-committing crimes, and more importantly, you're putting that means you're putting the community at risk of being victimized."Bardak says, the legislation could potentially drive people away from the Northwest Territories because it would make it more difficult for some to work at the diamond mines. Bardak says pardons are incentives for people to move toward a crime-free life. The Conservatives are trying to pass the legislation after former hockey coach Graham James, convicted of sexually assaulting two of his players, was pardoned this spring.

Tories propose tighter pardon rules
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews unveiled sweeping changes Tuesday that he said are meant to tighten up Canada's system of criminal pardons.

Toews said the proposed changes would eliminate pardons and replace them with more narrowly defined criminal record suspensions.
The push for changes to the pardon system stemmed from the case of Graham James, who pleaded guilty in 1997 to sexual assault. Sheldon Kennedy, who went on to play in the NHL, and a second unnamed player had come forward with accounts of the sexual abuse they suffered when James coached their Western Hockey League teams from 1984 to 1995.
"As all of you are aware, the pardon of convicted sex offender Graham James was deeply offensive to Canadians, to victims and to our government," Toews said during a news conference in Ottawa. "It demonstrated the need to take action to prevent such an outrage from happening again and to ensure our system of justice is not brought into disrepute."
Toews said his reform legislation would make it impossible for those convicted of sex offences against minors to have their criminal records suspended, except in a case where the applicant can demonstrate he or she was “close in age,” and that the offence did not involve a position of trust or authority, bodily harm or threat of violence or intimidation.
The changes would also prevent those convicted of more than three indictable offences from getting a record suspension.
Toews said the period of ineligibility for a record suspension would increase, from the current three years to five years for summary conviction offences and from five years up to 10 years for indictable offences.

'It doesn't erase what they've done'

The National Parole Board granted James a pardon in 2007 after he completed a 3½-year prison sentence. But the news only came to light in April after a previously unknown accuser contacted Winnipeg police.
The National Parole Board said in an explanation issued April 5 that it could not refuse a pardon based on the nature of a crime.
Craig Jones, the executive director of the John Howard Society, said the legislation to revamp the pardon system was a "rush to judgment."
He said there may be a case for a review of pardons and parole, but it should by done slowly and carefully, by panels of experts — not by what he calls "short-term-oriented, hair-on-fire opportunists."
Kennedy, however, in attendance at the announcement, applauded the proposed changes.
"This has been put together, yes, quickly, but with a lot of thought, and I think that it's going to be very beneficial to the organizations and the people that are going to be looking for background checks and so forth moving forward," he said.
"I think it just holds people accountable for what they've done and it doesn't erase what they've done."
In January of this year, Theoren Fleury, Kennedy's former WHL teammate who went on to have a stellar NHL career with the Calgary Flames and other teams, filed a police complaint against James.
Fleury alleged in his autobiography, Playing With Fire, that James repeatedly sexually abused him when he was a young player in the 1980s.
Winnipeg police have said they were investigating Fleury's complaint.

Following is the viewpoint of Des Rosiers, general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and Zwibel, its program director for public safety.
The government has recently introduced into the House of Commons Bill C-23, which is entitled Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act.
It represents a significant reform of the pardon system, and its passage no doubt would demonstrate that quick responses driven by particular cases may not be the best way to enact social policy.
Much of the public outcry over the Graham James case arose out of a misunderstanding about the meaning of a pardon. Borrowing from American films and television, many Canadians mistakenly assumed that a pardon meant that a person's criminal record ceased to exist and that he was, for all intents and purposes, "forgiven" for his crimes.
In reality, the Canadian pardon system never did work that way. An offender who is granted a pardon will have the records of his or her convictions separated from other criminal records.
This record would not be disclosed in an ordinary criminal record check. However, the law does seek to ensure that persons convicted of sexual offences against children, for example, are not shielded by the pardon if they choose to apply for a job or volunteer opportunity where they would be put in close contact with the "vulnerable sector," including children and those with development disabilities.
Thus, James's record would be disclosed if, for example, he wanted to coach junior hockey in Canada again. A pardoned conviction does not cease to exist and is not deleted. In addition, if the offender is convicted of another crime, the pardon ceases to have any effect.
The government has recognized that the "pardon" label is misleading, and Bill C-23 proposes to rename this as a "record suspension." This change is helpful. However, it's unfortunate that many of the other reforms proposed in Bill C-23 will do little to enhance public safety and may, in fact, undermine it.
The proposed reforms would narrow the list of those who are eligible for a pardon and make those eligible wait longer before they even can apply -- up to 10 years for many offences. Overall, the proposed reforms ignore the National Parole Board's evidence that the pardon system, as it currently stands, is working. Since 1970, the vast majority of pardoned offenders (96 per cent) have not re-offended.
The reforms also ignore the reality that a pardon can help to pave the way for convicted offenders to reintegrate into society after serving out their sentences and showing a commitment to abide by the law thereafter. Granting a pardon actually serves to further goals of public safety by creating incentives for offenders to stay on the right side of the law and allowing them the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to society.
There is no evidence that making it more difficult to get a pardon will make society safer. Indeed there is evidence to the contrary. The proposed reforms will simply heap another dose of punishment on offenders who have served out their sentences, paid their debts to society, and abide by the law. They will hinder society's goals of reintegration.
If we take rehabilitation seriously, we should not make it more difficult to obtain one of the more valuable tools towards that goal. Unfortunately, the government's knee-jerk reaction to the Graham James pardon does just that.

Legislation was introduced last week to change the current criminal pardon legislation, and I have some mixed feelings on the proposed changes.
I do agree with changing the name from a pardon to a record suspension, since a pardon does imply forgiveness of a crime, speaking strictly language-wise. I don't think the government should have the ability to "forgive" someone of a crime, which should be left to the individuals involved. A record suspension is an apt term for what actually happens. When someone gets a pardon the criminal record doesn't simply disappear, it is set aside and can be rescinded if the perpetrator commits another crime.
It also makes sense to give the pardon board the ability to consider each offense individually, since right now their hands are mostly tied. With the proposed changes the pardon board can consider the nature and impact of the crime. This is more in line with one of the sentencing principles of the Canadian justice system, which is that the sentence cannot undermine the public's faith in the justice system. Since the courts have to hold to that in sentencing I don't think it's unreasonable to expect the same standard applied to pardons.
What I have an issue with is proposed changes to the period of time before someone can get a pardon. The purpose of a pardon is that it removes barriers such as travel and employment for someone who has served their time and lived the specified amount of time without committing another offense. The current waiting periods are three years for less serious offenses and five years for more serious offenses.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews wants to increase the amount of time to five years for less serious offenses and 10 years for more serious offenses. To me this seems like a decision made purely for politicking and not with any credible reason behind it. Is there research showing that people with a pardon after, say five years, commit more crimes in the subsequent five years? Since only three per cent of pardons given since the 1970s have been rescinded because of a later crime I have serious doubts about that. A pardon is supposed to let someone who made a mistake better re-integrate themselves into society and become productive citizens. This delays that and if we don't want them to be able to move forward then why ever let them out in the first place? Why not just keep everyone in jail for the rest of their lives if they commit a crime?
This has all come about because of the sensationalistic case of Graham James, the former minor hockey coach who abused young players, most famously NHLer Sheldon Kennedy and allegedly Theo Fleury. James was granted a pardon and that has caused an apparent uproar. Prime Minister Harper exasperated the situation by pointing out that Karla Holomka will be eligible for a pardon this year. Both of these cases are exceptions rather than the norm in Canada, and citing them as reasons doesn't give an accurate picture of the pardon system or its effectiveness.
Because of the two very public and inflammatory nature of the cases mentioned above the government has brought in these proposed changes. Rather quickly too. I guess they think it makes them look tough on crime and able to act quickly. Acting quickly is not always the best route, especially in regards to binding legislation. Personally, I think actually looking into the stats and deciding if there's a need for all of the changes and if they will have a positive impact is better than throwing together some legislation quickly that panders to the voters. Being a lapdog for public opinion is not a good way to make policy or run a country. 

Harsher sentences do nothing to reduce, prevent or deter crime. Longer sentences increase the likelihood of re-offending due to the negative prison environment, influences and subculture and decrease the likelihood of successful reintegration due to no rehabilitation, little assistance when released, they become dependent and institutionalized. This is not in society's best interests. We need to foster rehabilitation and reintegration. A pardon is an incentive to live a crime free life. Criminal records severely limit employment and housing opportunities and with unemployment, comes the increased chance that one will resort back to criminal activities to earn funds. This is also not in society's best interests as it does not make communities safer. Aboriginals are disproportionately represented in Canada's prisons and therefore, this legislation will further marginalize this already socially disadvantaged group. This bill will make it much harder for aboriginals to turn their lives around. We need to help people who have committed criminal offences in the past, to successfully reintegrate into society, so they can become productive and law abiding citizens once again. 

Granting a pardon does not mean the crime committed is "forgiven." It simply acknowledges that people can and do change and that everybody deserves a second chance to turn their lives around and to improve themselves. Pardons comes with restrictions and are revoked if a person re-offends. They also do not erase a criminal record, and it can still be accessed, just not as easily. We need to help past offenders in rehabilitation and in moving forward in their lives. Nothing here is forgiven. Pardons merely allow a criminal record to be shelved to allow the person to prove themselves worthy in society. 

I believe in equality of opportunity for everybody, regardless of criminal past. Reforming the pardon system, does not give everybody equality of opportunity as denying pardons to sex offenders and other serious offenders, severely limits their employment and housing and travel opportunities. They have served their time in prison already and should not be further deprived and punished by society, and by having the stigma of a criminal past and record. People deserve second chances. Depriving and punishing those innocent people who have past criminal records, is "cruel and unusual punishment" as far as I am concerned. I advocate for human rights and equality and fairness and reforming the pardon system which is already successful, undermines these things. Every Canadian citizen deserves to have their basic human rights upheld and respected. 

There are significant restrictions associated with a pardon. The intent is to provide incentive to lead a productive life. The new changes may restrict some individuals to a life of institutional care by preventing meaningful employment. Rash and ill-conceived. This is the hallmark of the Conservative government.

What most people don't understand is that it's pretty much the same type of people that end up with a criminal record.

By a large margin, it's our country's poor people that end up on the wrong end of the legal system.

So Conservatives will use an evil example here and there to outrage their base, but the reality is that, at the end of the day, the people who will suffer as always from these "well intentioned" laws will be poor people. Victims will go on being victims and all of this banter will not reduce crime one iota. This is just more cruel and unusual punishment. More of the same from the Harper conservatives.

By the way folks: crime rates have been falling in Canada for at least a decade. When are we going to recognize that our system works relatively well as it is? Shouldn't we be doing more of the successful Liberal policies that have brought us here?

Honestly people. Let's admit that people can change (and yes, even sex offenders). A criminal record makes it extremely difficult for people to find work, eventually making them poor and homeless. What do you think happens then? When they don't have any legit options, crime is the only thing that pays the bills.

People can change. Sex offenders can only change to a certain degree, ie impulse control, awareness of triggers (alcohol, drugs, various states of mind like depression), and cognitive realization of impact on victims etc.
Most will tell you the urge never leaves....they rely on external controls and curtailing exposure to risk factors and triggers. So, no, sex offenders cannot really change at a base levels.

If this government were serious about reducing crime (which is already falling), it would not be cutting programs to divert youth from gangs and closing prison farms

We are more likely to have a safe society if we can find ways to integrate convicts. It may be a popular political move to incite anger against criminals, but if we really want to address the problem we need to look at root causes.

"As all of you are aware, the pardon of convicted sex offender Graham James was deeply offensive to Canadians, to victims and to our government,"

That sums it up right there... no evidence... no pragmatic or practical reasons... nothing except "We were offended"?

Laws are not some toy! They are not supposed to be about us FEELING better. We're not supposed to just rewrite laws because we are "offended" for crying out loud! What a WASTE of time! Not to mention how freaking dangerous!

What happens next when something else... like veils... like porn.. .like opposition to conservative opinion *offends* us. Do we outlaw those too? Laws cannot be a matter of taste! You must have some REAL reason to make them or to change them. Hurt feelings are not enough.

This is crazy! When we have so much else to do. When the RCMP just admitted they don't have the manpower... not even half the manpower... to even *start* to go after crooks who have hurt thousands of people through fraud. Here we are here... wasting time trying to RE-PUNISH a tiny handful of people we ALREADY caught and who have ALREADY been convicted and have ALREADY served their ENTIRE SENTENCE!

What the heck are we doing?!?!?!

Some facts that are not being put out there by the Conservatives in their propaganda about Pardons

1. A pardon does not erase the fact that a person was convicted of an offence
2. A pardon does not guarantee entry or visa privileges to another country.
3. A sentence may have included a driving or firearms prohibition order. A pardon will not cancel these prohibition orders
4. The CRA lists certain sexual offences. If a person was pardoned for such offences, his/her record will be kept separate and apart, but his/her name will be flagged in the CPIC computer system

4 being the most important, even if a sex offender applies for a job to work with children, the record is still available to the employer and comes up in a regular search process... If the sex offenders applies for a warehouse job then it does not as he won't be working with kids..

Another knee-jerk reaction from a bunch of jerks who can see no further than pandering to the emotionalism surrounding some criminal activities.
This legislation is next to meaningless. It will protect nobody who isn't already protected.
A pardon does not, and never did, wipe out a criminal record. For certain offences (i.e. sexual ones) the record is still available for certain kinds of searches.
All this will do is to make it more difficult for an offender to find a meaningful job in an area where their past is irrelevant.
More smoke & mirrors from the the cons for the sole purpose of stirring up emotions.

The people who want the pardon system abolished are completely uninformed and ignorant of its ramifications upon our justice system. Pardons serve as a way to deter criminals from ever committing again by rehabilitating them into society as lawful, taxpaying citizens! This has been proven to work. This conservative attitude towards US style "tough justice" just does not work!!! Please look at the US's crime rates per capital and their budgets spent per inmates and their recidivism (re-incarceration)... proof that tough justice just doesnt cut it.

Do something about crime prevention and rehabilitation. This means that lots of folks will have trouble finding work for more than 10 years and probably much longer; will be prone to more crime; and very likely will be living on social assistance for much of their life.

"The tightening up of pardons is fine, especially for violent offenders. The problem I see with what they're proposing is with regards to the 3 indictable offenses.

I was a troublemaker when I was younger and managed to rack up dozens of offenses (all property offenses, yet mostly tried as indictable offenses) over a period of about 10 years. Now, more than 20 years after the fact, and after having changed my life and attitude around (married, had children, bought a home, obtained my GED, etc.) I recently applied for and received a pardon. Under the proposed changes however, it sounds like this wouldn't have happened.

Should people continue to pay the price for foolish mistakes made as teenagers/young adults for the rest of their lives, even AFTER already serving sentences for those offenses??? As is already the case, these records are NOT expunged when a "pardon" is granted...they are only held separately from the accessible records through CPIC and similar searches. If another offense is committed, these records are immediately reintroduced into the system AND considered at trial as though a pardon had never been granted.

Let's eliminate the vigilante mob mentality and force the parole board to look at individual cases more closely, rather than bringing in blanket legislation making it harder for even truly changed individuals to erase a part of their history they wish to step away from to make a better life not only for themselves but in many cases for others such as their spouse and children. I'm NOT ashamed of my past, but it's nice to know that I DON'T have to explain it to every employer who asks!!!"

'This is downright evil. Restricting the rights of offenders does nothing but allow victims to extend their revenge longer. It doesn't help offenders change their lives and I can't see how it could possibly protect other people. If someone is determined to re-offend (and they most likely will be if they can't heal and re-integrate into society), then it doesn't matter whether they have a record or not.'

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