We have been helping people obtain Pardons in Canada for 20 years and each day we hear stories about how people have rehabilitated from their criminal past. They call us because even though the criminal offence happened many years in the past, the criminal offence is still haunting them.
Having a criminal record will prevent you from getting new jobs or promotions, volunteering, and traveling to the US to name a few obstacles. Thankfully, by obtaining a Pardon, your punishment is complete and you may continue your life as a free and good citizen.
The following article in the Toronto Star entitled “Pardons Help Build Safer Communities” highlights the importance of Pardons for Canadians:
Amid the recent flurry of discussion around pardons in Canada — the proposed increase in application fees and legislation aiming to further restrict eligibility criteria — it is easy to lose sight of the original intent and spirit informing the creation of the modern pardon system in 1970.
Pardons, captured under the Criminal Records Act, serve a very important function: they enable people who have made positive life changes and who have abstained from criminal behaviour to be freed from many of the negative impacts of having a criminal record, such as securing employment and housing. From a public safety perspective, this type of incentive offered to individuals trying to reintegrate successfully back into the community makes good sense.
Policies that emphasize rehabilitation and reintegration are proven ways of making us safer, and pardons play an important role in this process. The current pardon system functions very successfully, despite suggestions to the contrary.
Since 1970, more than 400,000 Canadians have received pardons. 96 per cent of these are still in force, indicating that the vast majority of pardon recipients remain crime-free in the community.”
The eligibility criteria for applying for a pardon (toughened in June 2010), ensure that only individuals who have completed their sentence, remained crime-free for the required amount of time (three, five or 10 years, depending on the offence), and proven that they are productive citizens will be granted a pardon by the Parole Board of Canada. Why would we want to bar an individual who meets these criteria from being able to find a job and contributing again to society?
It is a reality today, due to the stigma surrounding the “criminal” label, that a clear criminal record is a prerequisite for many employment and affordable housing opportunities. If a criminal conviction is revealed in a check, one can be reasonably assured that he or she will be passed over for the position being sought.
For people trying to turn their lives around, this can have very detrimental implications. The research is clear: employment serves as a significant normalizing and stabilizing factor in reintegrating individuals’ lives and its absence only increases the risk of reoffending. Stable, meaningful employment, as well as the income, housing and social networks that employment can foster, are significant protective factors against recidivism.
The notion that individuals who have paid their debt to society should be indefinitely flagged to protect ordinary citizens ignores the reality that having a criminal record is actually quite “ordinary.” In fact, about 3.8 million Canadians have a criminal record, mostly for property crimes such as theft or mischief. The individuals receiving pardons are those who have desisted from crime and are low-risk, often people who exercised poor judgment in early adulthood and have long since become engaged members of society.
Pardons were designed for an explicit purpose, not to absolve people of their past, but to foster the reintegration of individuals who have taken significant steps to changing their lives. The process has worked well for 40 years. Making pardons less attainable either through unreasonably increasing fees or limiting eligibility will not make us safer. We should promote and encourage those now living crime-free and productive lives, and pardons are part of that process.