Pardon legislation introduced to address criminal justice system inequities and keep communities safe
June 10, 2021 - Ottawa, Ontario
The Government of Canada is committed to addressing systemic inequities in the criminal justice system, specifically for Indigenous Peoples, Black Canadians, and other groups disproportionately affected by having a criminal record.
Today, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, the Honourable Bill Blair, introduced legislation, Bill C-31 An Act to Amend the Criminal Records Act and make consequential amendments to other acts, which proposes to reduce barriers to pardons for individuals with criminal records who have served their sentences and are living law-abiding lives. A pardon helps remove the stigma of a criminal record so people can access housing, employment, volunteer opportunities, and education, which are key to safe and successful reintegration as productive members of society. This improves public safety through reduced re-offending and victimization.
To help ensure that the pardons program works fairly and effectively, the legislation proposes to amend the Criminal Records Act to reduce wait periods for obtaining a pardon to three years for summary offences and five years for indictable offences. It would also streamline the decision-making process for less serious offences, so these applications can be dealt with more quickly and simply. In keeping with the aim of protecting public safety, some particularly serious offences would be ineligible. These ineligibilities would include convictions for sexual offences against a child; terrorism offences for which a sentence of 10 years or more has been imposed; and offences for which a life or indeterminate sentence has been imposed. The legislation also proposes that late payment of a fine or any other monetary penalty that was included in the sentence, does not restart the wait period.
In addition to these legislative amendments, the Government also intends to:
- Significantly reduce the application fee to an amount as low as $50 to make pardons more affordable, because the current cost of applying for a pardon ($657.77) is a financial barrier for many.
- Invest in program modernizations for the Parole Board of Canada (PBC), including developing a new online portal to make the application process simpler and quicker.
- Provide $22.2 million over 5 years for community based organizations to offer support services to help people complete pardon applications, and increase awareness of these support services, as well as of the PBC’s role as the federal agency responsible for the administration of the pardons program and its information resources for applicants. This will help ensure people have access to the right information about the pardons process and reduce reliance on third-party, for-profit companies that provide misleading information and charge high fees.
In an effort to further remove barriers to pardons, the Government will explore the automated sequestering of some criminal records for less serious offences for those living crime-free, in consultation with provinces, territories and municipalities, as well as other key criminal justice stakeholders. In other countries, including Australia and the United Kingdom, similar systems set aside criminal records for less serious offences after specific periods of time for those living crime-free, removing the need to apply for a pardon. This review will explore how such a system could be implemented in Canada.
The PBC, an independent administrative tribunal responsible for the timely, gradual, and safe reintegration of offenders into society and the sustained rehabilitation of individuals through pardons, recognizes the importance of diversity in carrying out its important public safety mandate. As part of the PBC’s commitment to bias-free and evidence-based decision-making, Board members consider systemic and background factors that have contributed to bringing an offender into the criminal justice system. The Corrections and Conditional Release Act, also requires that Board members be sufficiently diverse in their backgrounds to allow them to represent community values and views in their decision-making. As such, the PBC is, in effect, a “community board”, which represents Canada’s rich diversity of people and communities, with decision-makers that are reflective of the Canadians they serve.
“For those who have served their sentences and are living a law-abiding life, a pardon can mean the difference between successfully reintegrating into the community or returning to crime. Our Government is taking action to improve access to pardons and address systemic inequities in the criminal justice system that have a disproportionate impact on Indigenous Peoples, Black Canadians, and other overrepresented or marginalized groups. These evidence-based reforms will prioritize public safety by helping to sustain the reintegration of individuals who have proven to be law-abiding citizens, while ensuring that victims’ needs are taken into consideration.”
- The Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
“Our government is committed to combating systemic racism and discrimination in all aspects of society. We know that the criminal justice system disproportionately impacts racialized communities. For individuals who have completed their sentence and demonstrated to be law-abiding citizens, this legislation would reduce barriers to accessing a pardon, giving them a better chance to succeed and contribute in meaningful ways to society. As we stand together against all forms of discrimination, we need to dismantle systemic barriers so that our criminal justice system is more fair, effective, and keeps all Canadians safe.”
- The Honourable Bardish Chagger, Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth
Since 1970, only five percent of pardons or record suspensions awarded for eligible offences have been ceased or revoked, demonstrating that the recognition of sustained rehabilitation and successful reintegration in awarding record suspensions/pardons is effective, while maintaining public safety.
As of January 2020, data from the previous 5 years indicated the majority of individuals – 74 percent – who apply for a pardon or record suspension are those whose crimes were not serious enough to warrant a prison sentence.
Over the past three years the PBC has taken steps to increase the diversity of its Board members through expanded recruitment efforts among Indigenous people, visible minorities, LGBTQ2+ and women. Of the PBC’s 80 current Board members, 58% are women, 13% are Indigenous and 10% are visible minority, compared to just 5% (Indigenous) and 1% (visible minority) in 2014.
Budget 2021 proposes $88.2 million over five years, starting in 2021-22, with $13 million ongoing, for the Parole Board of Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and Public Safety Canada to reduce pardon application fees, create an online application portal, and support community organizations that help people navigate the application process.
In 2018, the House of Commons Public Safety Committee unanimously recommended making pardons more accessible.
Director of Communications
Office of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Public Safety Canada
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