The Effect of Bill C-23A on Pardons in Canada
At a time when the government is actively working in Parliament on getting Bill C-23B passed, which will rename pardons in Canada “record suspensions” and make more categories of ex-convicts ineligible to receive them, it is interesting to get some insight into the statistics regarding the effect of Bill C-23A, from which C-23B was divided off last year. In June 2010, when the whole Bill C-23 was being debated in Parliament, many of its provisions were, as now, contentious to the opposition. Then, an issue came up: notorious sexual offender Karla Homolka, who was released from prison in 2005 after serving 12 years for manslaughter, would very soon become eligible for a pardon, which, if granted, would eliminate her criminal record. One thing that all parties agreed upon was that this should not happen, so they passed the part of the bill that would raise some pardon requirements, including increasing the ineligibility period for manslaughter, other violent personal injury offences, and indictable sexual offences from 5 to 10 years after release, while leaving the more contentious parts to future argue. Now, over half a year after the changes to the criminal law came into force, the Parole Board of Canada has released statistics on the resulting changes to the pardon course of action.
Until Bill C-23A came into effect, the acceptance rate for pardon applications was 98%. However, in the second half of 2010, of approximately 6600 pardon applications, only 772 had been granted. Some of the applications are nevertheless under review, but this nevertheless represents a meaningful drop. Under the old rules, it was normal for a pardon in Canada to be reviewed within 3 to 5 months of filing the application. Now, it can ordinarily take 9 months to a year.
The above figure of 98% acceptance pertains to applications that had past an initial screening course of action to check for errors and incompleteness in the documents submitted. In the past, about a quarter of applications would be returned for these reasons without having been considered; from the end of June to the end of December, however, a staggering 10,588 applications totalling almost two thirds of those received were rejected in the initial stage. What would appear to be happening here is that, with the new requirements of Bill C-23A, the Parole Board is facing a greater workload for procedural reasons, leading officials to subject applications to greater scrutiny, in order to weed out as many as possible before having to truly consider them.
The issue of pardons in Canada seems to be a hot one for the government, which is proposing increasing the requirements already further. As of this writing, a controversial move to raise the price for applying to $631 (up from $150), is under public consultation. It will not be long until Bill C-23B, currently in a committee stage after two readings in the House of Commons, comes up for further discussion in Parliament. If the law is passed in its current form, the number of people who will never be able to get a pardon in Canada is due to skyrocket: not only will almost anyone who commits a sexual offence involving a minor be ineligible, but so will anyone who commits 3 or more indictable offences (which, technically, can happen just by committing one crime). already the idea of allowing the Parole Board to take two years to decide on a pardon case is being floated, a period of time that is clearly superfluous. Is all this really necessary for preventing and punishing crime, or is the government truly preventing the rehabilitation of people who have for long been law-abiding citizens and deserve a second chance?