Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act

An Act to amend the Criminal Records Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.


Vic Toews  Conservative


This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Criminal Records Act to substitute the term “record suspension” for the term “pardon”. It extends the ineligibility periods for applications for a record suspension. It also makes certain offences ineligible for a record suspension and enables the National Parole Board to consider additional factors when deciding whether to order a record suspension.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 3:30 p.m.
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Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

moved that Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Records Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 3:30 p.m.
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Oxford Ontario


Dave MacKenzie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise in sponsorship of this important bill before us today. Bill C-23 would fundamentally overhaul the system of pardons in this country in order to ensure that the rights of victims and law-abiding Canadians are properly balanced with those of offenders.

We told Canadians that this is what we would do several weeks ago, and our government is one of action. We deliver on our commitments both expeditiously and thoughtfully. Over the last few weeks, I believe that all of us have been made aware of just how important this legislation is. We have heard from many ordinary Canadians who wonder how a serial sex offender such as Graham James could have his record sealed just five years after finishing his sentence.

We have heard from other Canadians who asked the same question about other offenders who may be eligible to receive a pardon for their offences with almost no regard for what kind of crimes they have committed or the lasting impact on victims.

We have heard from victims themselves who have spoken about the pain and suffering they have endured for many years. Those same victims have urged us to ensure that the changes our government is proposing are quickly passed into law. We have heard from victims who have told us that this bill is on the right track. We have heard from many of them that these changes are needed. We have heard that the changes proposed by Bill C-23 are tough, but also that they are fair.

I therefore urge all hon. members to work with us to give Bill C-23 the speedy passage it deserves so that we can ensure that the pardon system in this country works the way it should.

For many people today, the word “pardon” somehow implies that previous offences have been completely forgotten, regardless of how much pain and suffering was caused to the victim. A pardon suggests that everything is now okay because the offender has waited three or five years and stayed clear of the justice system for that time. Our government believes that this is not an accurate reflection of how the legal system works.

How the system really works is that in certain cases and under certain conditions, an ex-offender's record is sealed and kept apart from public view so that ex-offenders have an opportunity to get on with their lives as law-abiding citizens who can more easily find work and more fully contribute to society, but the record can again be brought back into view under certain circumstances, so it is suspended rather than permanently deleted. Bill C-23 would therefore amend the Criminal Records Act to replace the word “pardon” with the more accurate “record suspension” to reflect this fact.

Today if individuals want to receive a pardon, or record suspension, all they need to do is finish their sentences and stay clear of the law for three or five years. To many people, the process appears to be virtually automatic, and the numbers would support that view. Only 2% of all applications were rejected by the National Parole Board last year and only 1% of the applications were rejected the year before that. Our government and indeed many Canadians believe these numbers indicate that fundamental reforms are required to the way the National Parole Board works.

As the Prime Minister recently noted, our government believes that a pardon is not a right. There are some cases and some occasions where actions should never be pardoned. Bill C-23 therefore proposes amendments to the Criminal Records Act to provide the National Parole Board with the tools and discretion it needs so that in certain cases, individuals convicted of serious crimes would not be eligible for a pardon or record suspension. In particular, Bill C-23 would amend the Criminal Records Act so that individuals convicted of certain sexual offences against minors would not be eligible for a record suspension unless they could prove to the National Parole Board that the offence did not involve a position of trust, bodily harm or the threat of violence.

Victims and victims' advocacy groups have asked for these changes and our government is delivering them.

Under this new legislation, individuals convicted of four or more indictable offences would not be eligible to apply for a record suspension. In cases where an ex-offender is eligible to apply for a record suspension, the waiting period for some re-offences would be increased from three to five years, and for indictable offences, from five to ten years.

For indictable offences, the changes our government is proposing would allow the board to examine factors such as the nature, gravity and duration of an offence. The board would also take into account the circumstances surrounding the commission of the offence and the applicant's criminal history.

As well, a person convicted of an indictable offence would need to prove to the National Parole Board that receiving a suspension of record will contribute to his or her rehabilitation and will not bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

As I mentioned before, the changes our government is proposing are tough but they are also fair. It is not just our government that is saying this. Sheldon Kennedy, one of the former victims of Graham James, recently noted, with regard to the reforms that the government is proposing, that, “There was a lot of thought put into them—and that the approach—is balanced”.

The Globe and Mail also recently noted:

Reforming Canada's system of pardons to disqualify child sex offenders such as the former junior hockey coach Graham James – or worse, child sex killer Karla Homolka – is sensible. It's also reasonable to scrap the term “pardon” and substitute “record suspension.” Pardon implies a forgiveness that the offender may not have earned.

In the same light, Ron Jette of the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Network, in an interview with CTV, said “that granting a child molester a pardon would be a slap in the face to a victim'” and essentially tell the victim that he or she does not matter.

Our government agrees, as do millions of Canadians who want us to continue to take the necessary steps to secure the safety of all Canadians. That is what the proposed reforms in Bill C-23 would do.

I therefore would again strongly urge all hon. members to give this vital bill the speedy passage it deserves.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 3:40 p.m.
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Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-23, a bill the government introduced to amend the Criminal Records Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

In summary, the bill aims to amend the Criminal Records Act substituting the term “pardon” with the more narrowly defined “record suspension” and would prohibit record suspension in the cases of individuals convicted of sex offences perpetrated on children. The bill would also restrict record suspensions in cases of repeat offenders and extend the waiting periods required between parole and eligibility for record suspension. It would also create regular reporting requirements for the National Parole Board to the Minister of Public Safety.

We will be supporting the bill to go to committee and are supportive of changes to the system that currently exists for granting pardons. However, it bears mentioning that three years ago the then minister of public safety had undertaken a review of this system of granting pardons and had said that everything had been fixed. Therefore, this is not the first time the government has looked at this issue. Three years ago, the then minister conducted no hearings and did not consult the public safety committee but made some minor changes and said that the problem was solved and that we did not need to worry about it anymore. In fact, what was done at that point in time was to add a second person to the review panel and say that both people had to be in unanimous agreement that someone would be given a pardon before it was allowed.

That was the end of it until, of course, a major sensational story hit the media, a very unfortunate story involving Mr. James receiving a pardon, and suddenly the government had a renewed interest in the topic. What we see again and again is that the government waits for a sensational story, something that is very emotional that it can use politically, and then writes legislation on the back of a napkin to capitalize on. Usually this is done particularly when Conservatives are under siege for some other political issue. In this issue, under scrutiny and attack for their complete mismanagement of the G8 and G20 meetings that are being held in Huntsville and Toronto. It rings a little hollow when they come out and demand urgent action and feign outrage when they have been in government for more than four years and themselves reviewed this issue three years ago.

A couple of areas in the bill do cause concern. When we are dealing with sex offenders, I fully support those changes. They are important and we recognize that, but there are a couple of areas on which we want clarification. One area is the indictable offences. The length of time for someone to receive a pardon would increase from three to five years to five to ten years. Some indictable offences can be for something that is serious but also something relatively minor. For example, if someone were charged with marijuana possession, that could be an indictable offence. If someone were involved in cheque fraud, clearly not something we would want to see anybody engage in, but that also could be an indictable offence. Someone who was in a desperate financial situation and made a really dumb choice to engage in cheque fraud could be in a situation where she or he would not get a pardon for 10 years.

This is a major difference, because someone who is 18 years old and has to wait three years for a pardon and are then able to continue their life at 21, is materially different than someone who has to wait 10 years for a pardon and would be then 28 years of age before he or she could begin his or her life.

It bears mentioning that we have pardons for a reason. While we would all agree that there are certain people who should never get pardons, trying to hold that out as if everybody is dishonest is, frankly, a perversion of fact. When the Prime Minister stands and says that this is about stopping Karla Homolka from getting a pardon, of course no one wants to see her get a pardon. What a bunch of absurdity to even raise that, to put the victims' families through that. The reality is that most people who are getting pardons are people who have made mistakes but clearly deserve another chance and be given an opportunity to redeem themselves and positively contribute to society.

If somebody, for example, were charged with marijuana possession when they were 18 years old, would we want to see that person never able to be employed? Would we want to see that person live in poverty with no hope for the rest of his or her life and no opportunity to clear his or her name?

I would hope most members of the House would say no, that it is not a fair thing to do and that it is not just. Of course we want to ensure that those who have committed serious crimes do not have the opportunity to get pardons but that is something that should have been done four years ago, and particularly three years ago when there was another sensational case that the then public safety minister was talking about.

What deeply concerns me is that my comments today, my legitimate concern around a bill and asking questions, will almost certainly be twisted and contorted for partisan gain. I am just saying that we need to look at this in committee, that we need to ensure the right people will have the right outcomes here and that people who do not deserve it will not be caught in a mistake, particularly when the legislation is written in such haste.

Instead, when we ask questions, that is contorted as somehow being for criminals. I will give an example. Recently I was speaking to the issue of taxpayers paying benefits for prisoners in jail. The case of Clifford Olson, of course, is invoked because the government seeks to get the maximum amount of emotion and to get people as disturbed and angry as it possibly can as it plays politics with people's emotions toward crime.

I will go over what the Conservative member for Abbotsford said:

Yesterday, the Liberal MP for Ajax—Pickering shamefully defended prisoners getting taxpayer funded old age security benefits.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 3:45 p.m.
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Some hon. members


Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 3:45 p.m.
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Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Before members shame it, maybe they should hear the facts. If they actually waited for facts instead of yelling the word shame, I think this would work better.

Another member, the member for Oak Ridges—Markham, went on to basically repeat the same thing and then the minister stood up and made the same proclamation.

Here is the problem. Here is what I said, “Mr. Speaker, you clearly do not want a situation where someone who is in jail and committed a minor offence is suddenly losing their pension”.

I said that my concern was not with Clifford Olson and not with somebody who committed a serious crime, I clearly stated, in very plain language for anybody who bothered to read it, that my concern was that somebody who committed a minor offence would be caught up in losing his or her benefits. I simply wanted to ask that question at committee.

Has this House degenerated to the point where just asking a question about a bill and having a concern that somebody who does not deserve to be caught in something that it is not fair is then translated into somehow standing up for prisoners? That is the degeneration of the debate in this place and it is shameful. There has been no apology and no attempt to correct the record even though it has been made very clear in the media, mocked, that this would be done.

Even now, without even hearing me speak or hearing the facts, members on the other side yell the word “shame”. It is a shame. It is a terrible shame that a government would distort facts and information to try to use crime as a political weapon.

The reality is, without any question, that crime is an issue that deserves bipartisanship. It needs to be based on evidence. We need to take a step back and ask how we can make our communities safer. I am a father of three children. I would say that every member in this place who has a child and cares for their safety, cares for—

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 3:45 p.m.
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An hon. member

Are they all yours?

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 3:50 p.m.
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The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I regret to interrupt but I will ask the hon. members to show some respect while a member is speaking and to refrain from disrespectful comments.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 3:50 p.m.
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Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, it is disappointing that when I reference the fact that I have three children, there is an attack that is levelled on me even about that.

What I was trying to say, if they would bother to listen instead of shouting things at me, is that every member in this House cares about their family, cares about their community, and came to this place because they want to make their country and their community a better place. When members cast aspersions on other members, on their motivations, to say that somehow I care less about my children or somehow I care less about my community than they do theirs, that is when the word “shame” is appropriate.

When we are having discussions about how to proceed with keeping our community safe, why do we not do it honestly? Why do we not do it with integrity? Why do we not do it by a method in which people who elect us expect us to operate?

I think that this bill, again, deserves to be supported, deserves to go forward, deserves to be looked at committee, but it also deserves to be questioned. People who have legitimate and fair questions about that should be assured that a young person who is 18 years old is not going to be in a situation where his or her life will be destroyed unnecessarily. They must be able to have a voice to that issue.

Playing games with crime has to end. We have to move to an evidence-based system.

When we had the former victims' ombudsman, now let go for reasons we do not know, saying the current government's plan for victims was unbalanced and would not work, when we had the correctional investigator sounding the alert, saying that our prison systems were getting ready to burst or were overloaded, when we had a Minister of Public Safety saying that a bill was going to cost $90 million and then under threat of a PBO report, a Parliamentary Budget Officer report, saying, “Now that the truth is going to come out, it's $2 billion, not $90 million”, I think the government has a problem with numbers.

It has a problem adding up costs, not just with this but with the G8 and G20 and the budget. It said we were not in deficit when we were in fact heading into Canada's largest deficit we have had in our history, a deficit before the economic downturn even began. The government is more interested in hyperbole, in trying to twist and contort things to play games, and to play politics than it is interested in public policy.

What concerns me about a bill like this is that I know that what started this bill was talking points. What started this bill was how the government could win with it politically, not how to create good public policy.

Instead of asking that question, instead of starting as a starting point, let us develop good legislation, let us do what is right for Canadians, let us base it on evidence, and let us base it on making our communities safer. Yet, the government based it on politics. It based it on writing something on the back of a napkin, creating talking points, and then worrying whatever the legislation will be later.

There are lives in the balance and Canadians expect much more of us.

I am going to finish on this note. When we have a situation as fortunate as Canada's is where, while we still do face crime, we have one of the lowest crime rates anywhere in the industrialized world, where we have seen crime decline year over year, what we would expect is a government that would be investing in seeing that trend continue, taking a look at jurisdictions that have succeeded. We would see a government that would be investing in things like crime prevention, in victims, in front-line support, in mental health, in drug addiction, and things that really bring crime down, as evidence has shown.

Instead, on the same thing, because it thinks it will win more votes, this is a government that is dumping billions into prisons.

There was a delegation that came from the United Kingdom to study how Canada could have such a low crime rate and such a low rate of incarceration. When the delegates got to Canada and saw this government's direction, that it was racing after a Republican failed model that had been a disaster and crushed in states like California, that was done in the U.K. to disastrous effect, they said, “Please don't do this. Don't walk this road. Because if you do, it'll be incredibly hard to undo. It'll cost you billions of dollars. It'll make your communities less safe. It'll turn young people from minor criminals into serious ones, throwing them into jails that are overcrowded without programs to make them better, criminalizing them, and continuing a cycle of violence that often was happening well before they arrived in that jail cell”.

Victims are not some people who appear out of the ether. Victims are often people who have been living in cycles of victimization. They are often offenders themselves, people who turn to substance abuse to get out of their horrific situations, people who end up developing mental disorders because of their terrible situations.

There are not bad people and good people, and black and white. There is the truth, and the truth is that if we follow evidence, if we care, if we invest in things such as crime prevention, early intervention, and trying to turn young people away from dark paths, that works.

Dumping money on a political agenda designed to win votes, chasing after a system that did not work, that was broken, where every jurisdiction that adopted it is saying it was a disaster and crushing it, is the wrong way to go. All I am asking is that the government listen to reason and evidence.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 3:55 p.m.
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Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, no doubt this bill will be sent to committee. I know that it is a committee that the member has an interest in and of which he is a member.

Could he forecast, for the members who are not on the committee and the public who are interested in this important bill, what kind of witness lists he would expect to see, what kind of evidence he would like to hear, what outcomes there might be with respect to, for instance, groups in our community that offer pardon services, groups that work toward rehabilitation and think that a pardon is part of that reintegration into society, and not to go so far as to give any consideration to the most egregious cases?

What kind of testimony is he looking to see at committee, in support of or against this bill?

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 3:55 p.m.
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Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, first, we are going to want to hear from witnesses on how we can ensure, which frankly should have been done three years ago when the public safety minister said he was going to do it, that people who should not get pardons do not.

Obviously, somebody who is a serious sex offender, somebody who has committed a serious and heinous crime, should not get the opportunity to receive a pardon. As I said in my comments, there is a whole other category of people, the vast majority of people who do get pardons today, whom I think pretty much everybody in this House would agree should continue to receive a second chance, should have an opportunity at redemption and an opportunity to rebuild their lives.

Certainly, we will want to hear from the John Howard Society and the Elizabeth Fry Society that represent inmates. We will want to hear from the Canadian Bar Association. We will want to hear from the National Pardon Centre itself, that actually processes these applications. I had an opportunity to talk with those officials. They are very supportive of some elements of the bill, as am I. They have some important questions about other elements of the bill, where they feel that there is a possibility of young people being trapped in a situation where their lives would be destroyed.

That is the type of balance we want to see and I would hope that the members, instead of engaging in hyperbole, political demonization and games, and playing politics with this issue and others, would take a moment to take a step back, ask some honest questions, do their jobs, and base things on evidence.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 3:55 p.m.
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Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to this bill to amend the Criminal Records Act by substituting the term “record suspension” for the term “pardon” and extending the ineligibility period for applications for a record suspension. It also makes certain offences ineligible for a record suspension and enables the National Parole Board to consider additional factors when deciding whether to order a record suspension

The Bloc Québécois is in favour of a review of the Criminal Records Act in committee. We would have preferred this to be done more rationally and intelligently through a review in committee rather than through a cobbled together bill full of poison pills. In any event, we are accustomed to the Conservatives' attitude and their way of doing things.

The Conservatives' usual modus operandi for this type of thing is to wait for a heinous event to be reported in the media. They latch on to the story, act outraged and then draft a bill that proposes repression, punishment, double punishment and non-pardons. To top it all off, they put on a big show to give the impression that they are taking care of public safety and victims.

For this bill, the government used the same modus operandi: a media event concerning the 2007 pardon of hockey coach Graham James. Then Bill C-23 is announced with great fanfare to supposedly get tough on crime when it comes to pardoning pedophiles. The bill apparently targets pedophiles.

In fact, the bill is full of poison pills that will affect not only pedophiles—it does indeed do that—but everyone from purse snatchers to marijuana smokers to ordinary thieves.

I am not the only one who says so. In an article in Le Devoir, Ms. Cornellier said:

Once again, the government is taking advantage of an incident, a controversy, to push changes that will have drastic consequences. Making certain criminals who have served their time ineligible for pardon can compromise rehabilitation efforts and, as a result, the long-term safety of society. Whether the minister likes it or not, the possibility of a pardon, in the most serious cases, is an incentive to make an effort towards social reintegration. In more minor cases, for example with old marijuana possession convictions, it can help clear up some troubles.

Now there is someone who understands what the government is doing.

Is the Bloc Québécois in favour of examining the Criminal Records Act to review automatic pardons for pedophiles? Yes. Do we think that pedophiles should be subject to more careful and in-depth analysis by the National Parole Board? Yes, obviously. But does this bill deal with only pedophiles? No.

With this bill, the Conservatives are once again using a media event—the Graham James case—to present a complete overhaul of the pardon system, which works fine as it is. In fact, 97% of those who have received pardons have not reoffended. That means that 3% have. Do we need to be more vigilant with them? Yes, but does that mean that we need a complete overhaul of the pardon system? I do not think so.

It is a matter of looking into what kinds of crimes those who fall into that 3% have committed. We would have to ask ourselves how we can improve legislation to specifically address that 3%. That would be an intelligent analysis. Is that what the bill does? In my opinion, no.

Let us look at the current system. First, a pardon does not erase the fact that a person was convicted.

A pardon just means that a person's record is suspended. The record is removed from the Canadian Police Information Centre. Information on other convictions is also removed. If a police officer searches for the person's name in the information centre after the pardon is granted, he will not find it. But if the person commits another crime, the record becomes public again. It is therefore suspended as long as the person obeys the law.

Currently, if an offender who has been pardoned for a sexual offence applies for a job that involves contact with children or vulnerable persons, a police force or any other authorized organization can, with the applicant's permission, check whether he was ever pardoned. If the applicant was convicted of child-related offences, it is up to the employer to decide whether or not to hire him.

Moreover, a person convicted on indictment must currently wait five years to apply for a pardon. That is five years from the time the sentence has been completely served, meaning that the offender's fines have been paid, he has completed his probation period and he has finished paying his debt. Beginning at that point, he must wait five years from the time he was convicted on indictment before applying. It can take from 6 to 18 months to get an answer, and sometimes even longer, depending on how complex the case is. A person convicted of a summary conviction offence must wait three years to apply.

With this new bill, the length of time people will have to wait before applying will increase from five to 10 years and from three to five years. I want to raise another point before I talk about the 10-year ineligibility period. The effect of a record suspension is limited to Canada. Certainly, if the American authorities have the record in their system, a person may be refused entry into the U.S. at the border. Records generally remain in the American system even if the person has been pardoned.

Only the Minister of Public Safety is authorized to provide information about a pardoned individual's file. He may provide such information only under exceptional circumstances and only if he believes that providing the information is relevant to the administration of justice or public safety in Canada or if it is related to another state.

What does the act cover now? Let us consider the first point on which I believe everyone in the House will agree, which is that any person convicted of “an offence involving sexual activity relating to a minor...unless the applicant can demonstrate s/he was “close in age” and that the offence did not involve a position of trust/authority, bodily harm or threat of violence/intimidation” would be ineligible for a record suspension.

Who could disagree with that? The committee will have to consider whether that can be improved upon.

We have some questions about the 10-year and 5-year provisions. This bill would increase the waiting time from 5 years to 10 years for convictions on indictment and from 3 years to 5 years for summary convictions. What does that really mean? I decided to have a little fun checking out the Criminal Code. Here is what I found in section 437, which is about false alarms:

Every one who wilfully, without reasonable cause, by outcry, ringing bells, using a fire alarm, telephone or telegraph, or in any other manner, makes or circulates or causes to be made or circulated an alarm of fire is guilty of

(a) an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years; or

(b) an offence punishable on summary conviction.

The Criminal Code is full of minor offences that deal with all kinds of things, such as removing a natural bar without permission. But a person convicted of an indictable offence must wait 10 years after paying the fine to request a pardon. How will that affect the person's ability to find a job? We have to understand that a criminal record can close many doors when it comes to employment.

When I read this bill, an image came to mind. When I was studying criminology, I remember that we were told that a long time ago criminal records did not exist. Criminals were identified by branding with a hot iron. Branding worked for livestock. It meant that criminals would be marked for life and, in addition, it was extremely humiliating. Branding was a kind of permanent criminal record. It could not be erased and criminals would experience rejection and humiliation for the rest of their lives. They would live like pariahs. The branding was often chosen based on the crime: “T” for thieves, or “C” for counterfeiters. According to the French Penal Code from 1810, criminals were branded on the right shoulder: “T” for hard labour, travaux forcés, or “TP” for hard labour for life, travaux à perpétuité. I was very surprised to see that in Canadian military prisons “D” was used for deserters. We have make sure that we do not regress to those times.

We are concerned about the idea that people who have been convicted of more than three offences resulting in prison sentences of more than a year would be ineligible for record suspension. Take a typical case of an 18 year old who committed three robberies. That person would not be able to redeem himself even if, after two or three years, he no longer wanted to be a delinquent and decided that he wanted to go back to school and rebuild his life, and really wanted to turn things around. This young man, at the age of 25, married with children, wanting to start a career and be a good person, would not be able make a criminal record request because he had committed three offences, so it would not be allowed. He would live in constant shame, all because he made the wrong choices in his youth. And despite having turned his life around, he would be branded for life. It is the same symbolism.

The Conservative government is a little like the Javert character in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. Javert is the police officer who has always believed that once a man becomes a criminal, he is always a criminal and there is no such thing as pardon or rehabilitation. He regarded the law as divine law. He thought that Jean Valjean would remain a criminal his entire life, but Jean Valjean demonstrated that, on the contrary, he was capable of pity, clemency and rehabilitation. Poor Javert was completely devastated, jumped off the Pont Notre-Dame and drowned in the Seine.

We are wondering what the connection is between doubling the time required to obtain a pardon in all cases and James Graham, who was charged with pedophilia. There is no connection. The only point that links this case, which got a lot of media attention, is that there were a few changes to the terminology. Apart from that, nothing else really made sense, because the system already works just fine. I repeat: 97% of people who received pardons have never reoffended.

Applying this measure across the board does not make sense. Society has implemented this means of suspending criminal records precisely in order to allow men and women the opportunity to find decent jobs, support their families, pay their taxes and get away from their criminal past. I believe this last point is the only one that guarantees a safer society, and not the Conservatives' obsession with ever-lasting punishment.

What do the Conservatives think today? Do they believe that by making life more difficult for reformed individuals, people who have not reoffended, we will be better protected? If those people are starving, if they and their family members do not have good jobs, do not earn much money or have any income security, do they think we will be collectively richer and safer? I do not think so. Do they believe that life has meaning only if people pay for their mistakes for the rest of their lives? I do not think so. Should we be happy or pleased about the suffering and difficulties facing those who have fallen and made mistakes, when three to five years after they have served their entire sentence and have never reoffended, they try to redeem themselves? Is that what Christian generosity is all about?

This bill sends a clear signal that what the Conservatives want is to get rid of the word “rehabilitation” in every case. Unfortunately, that is what they are all about.

There are cases that call for extra caution, for extra careful thought and analysis before a decision is made to grant a pardon or not. Every case is different. I think the people at the National Parole Board are smart. They are experienced people whose job it is to look at every case. We can give them additional tools, and we have to have confidence in a system with a 97% success rate. The success rate is not 3%, but 97%.

Sexual offences, especially those involving minors, need to be looked at carefully, and the act needs to be reviewed as it pertains to such offences. We agree. But please, let us avoid the Conservatives' tendency to exaggerate and put all offenders in the same boat. They would have us lock everyone up and throw away the key.

The Bloc Québécois feels that a thoughtful, rational, non-partisan study of the Criminal Records Act could be good for victims, for our society and for the rehabilitation of offenders and I would even say former offenders.

With this criterion in mind, we will support sending this bill to committee. Clearly, public safety must be the top priority in deciding whether or not to grant a record suspension, and it can be ensured by rehabilitating offenders and pardoning people who have been rehabilitated. We will not build more just societies by branding people for life and making them wear scarlet letters.

I still have a minute left, but I have nothing more to say. Everything has been said.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
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Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to commend my colleague for her excellent speech. I have a question for her.

She said that 3% of people who are pardoned eventually reoffend. In the bill before us, all types of crimes are mixed together. The bill is meant to punish pedophiles, but it includes other crimes and extends the pardon period for other crimes that are less significant.

I would like my colleague to answer the following questions. What type of crimes are committed by the 3% of people who reoffend? Also, for those who have not been pardoned, and the hon. member covered this very well, what are the consequences in terms of reintegration into the work force? When someone has a criminal record, often for offences committed at age 17, 18 or 19, this can have a major influence on their career and their personal development and can often marginalize them.

What can we do to change this bill intelligently and not, as the hon. member says, like the Conservatives, who lump everyone together, punish people, draft new legislation and move on?

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 4:20 p.m.
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Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. We do not have a breakdown of what kinds of crimes that 3% segment has committed. What we do know, however, is that individuals who have committed a sex crime already have a much harder time obtaining a pardon. There are some cases that show up in the media. From what I understand, the government created this legislation to prevent Karla Homolka from obtaining a pardon. I can understand that specific cases will come up, but we should really look at what crimes the 3% are committing. The National Parole Board already examines cases of serious pedophilia offences and the like, and it takes its time and deliberates before granting a pardon.

As for the other 97%, they are already rehabilitated. There is a waiting period of three or five years to see whether or not they reoffend. We must not forget that the criminal record is not wiped out; it is suspended. This means that after people have served their sentences, they will be monitored for five years to see whether or not they reoffend. They are monitored to see what they do, and then they are granted a pardon, which can take one year. So that is six years total. If, 10 or 15 years later, the individual commits a theft, for example, for whatever reason, the criminal record will become active again.

As people age, work, get married and have children, they are surrounded by fewer and fewer factors that attract them to a life of crime. It makes sense. As soon as people start participating in society, they no longer feel excluded and are not anti-social. They become law-abiding citizens. Are we going to tell them that not only did they serve a 10-year sentence, but that they will also not be receiving a pardon for some thefts they committed at the age of 18?

If they committed three thefts, they will never be able to request a pardon. Why not four, five or six? Why is the government adopting this American mentality that has never worked? The United States is in the process of releasing offenders and street gang members because the prisons are too full.

It is unfortunate that, since this government took power, it has been making a spectacle out of public safety.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 4:20 p.m.
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Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-23 from two perspectives.

First, do we need to study the pardon bill, or the record bill, or whatever lovely name we want to give it? It really does not matter what one calls it. We need to look at how to go about granting pardons to folks who have committed different categories of offences. It seems appropriate that we should be doing that. However, it seems to me that we could have done that three years ago, because what has been said previously in this House is true. There were opportunities. There was a quick look at it, and the minister decided that it was good enough and simply said that things were fine.

We saw the most recent example of this in the press, which reported that Mr. James was granted a pardon a couple of years ago. It twigged the government's interest in looking at the pardon bill.

My community in the Niagara Peninsula went through an absolutely horrendous evil with Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. I do not know how else to explain it to hon. members. We lived through a series of things that no one should have to live through. Clearly, for us, the granting of a pardon to Karla Homolka is unconscionable. Unfortunately, the bill before us cannot be passed in time to prevent Ms. Homolka from applying for a pardon.

New Democrats offered the government a way out by suggesting that we split this bill with a motion that would allow us to deal now with people like Karla Homolka. We would look for unanimity in the House, which I believe the government could get, to fast-track it so that Ms. Homolka would not be granted a pardon. The motion stated:

That, in the opinion of the House, urgent changes to the Criminal Records Act are required to prevent pardons from being granted that would shock the conscience of Canadians or bring the administration of justice into disrepute, and therefore the government should immediately introduce legislation with the specific purpose to empower the National Parole Board to deny pardons in cases where granting a pardon would shock the conscience of Canadians or bring the administration of justice into disrepute....

It was an opportunity to do this, and hopefully, there still will be an opportunity to do this.

I met with the granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. French on Friday. She wrote me a letter asking what I could do to help with this issue. She was very compelling. She did not have to be. I raised my family in that community. I know what it was like to live through that period of time and the fear it generated. We lived through what was for all of us a period of anxiety that none of us had ever experienced before, which none of us ever want to experience again, especially those of us who had young girls, who were the specific targets.

I invited her to speak with me about the issue she was representing. She had generated within a very short period of time 1,700 names, which she sent to the Minister of Public Safety. She was imploring him to take out this piece and work on this one aspect. As I explained how we could do that, she was extremely gratified. She said that this is what she would like to see happen. As I explained to her, the other parts of the pardon act do not pertain to the types of heinous crimes that were committed by Ms. Homolka and her spouse, Paul Bernardo.

I talked to her about a young man who had sent me an email. This young man was a 19-year-old who was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. He said that he had done it, he was guilty, he was caught, and he served what he had to under the Criminal Code. He pleaded guilty to his act. He said that he had never done it again, that he will never do it again in his life, and that he had accepted the punishment. He also asked that we please not add a couple of more years to the punishment, because he did not deserve it.

When I related that story to Ms. Doyle, she said that he was right; he did not.

I thought that was absolutely compelling testimony from the granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. French and the niece of Kristen French. She got that. She said that I was right that he should not have to suffer any more. He had suffered enough.

However, she also relayed the message that she and her family should not have to suffer again. Every time the name is raised and the event is talked about, they suffer again what happened to them in an all too real way that most of us cannot imagine. For them, it is never over, as she said to me. She was quite cogent about the fact that it is never over for them. One day leads to the next, but they are always reminded in one form or another.

If Ms. Homolka were to receive a pardon, for the French family, and indeed, for the members of my community in the Niagara Peninsula, it would be as if she had been forgiven. To be truthful, the French family does not want her to be forgiven. I know that my community in the Niagara Peninsula does not want to forgive her either.

I implore the government to reconsider and find a way, with the help of this side of the House, of course, because that hand is open to you and is extended to you, to ensure that this indeed does not happen. Let us not have that family relive those days. Let them rest assured that the acts perpetrated by that couple will forever be admonished and will never be pardoned in the sense that it is okay and it is now over. For them, as I said, it can never be over.

All of us understand it in a mental way, in the sense that we can intellectualize it, but to understand it as they do, in our hearts and in our guts, is next to impossible for us, including those of us who lived in the region and understood this absolute horror on a first-hand basis.

I would ask the House, especially the government, to hear what Ms. Talin French-Doyle said in her letter, which states:

Victims of crimes are direct and indirect as in family, friends and even the general public in the case of particularly fear inducing or morally reprehensible acts. Please be aware that each time an offender name is mentioned or the ongoing events of their life are documented, the victims, both direct and indirect are brought back to the events of the offence. In this regard, the past is never gone for victims and the world will never be the same again.

She went on to say:

Forgiveness is the right of a victim, not a requirement of the State.

Ms. Doyle is asking the government and all of us in this place to help the French family not have to endure what they have endured for so many years by allowing a pardon. Time is of the essence, because as we know, indeed, the application process could start as early as next month. There is no guarantee that it will happen, but no one in the House can guarantee the Frenches that it will not. They are asking the House to ensure that it cannot happen in Ms. Homolka's case. We have that ability.

It would be a shame, in a magnitude of disproportionate terms, not to ensure that we stop it, especially when we have the ability to do so. We owe it to the French family to say that we will ensure that this request it is making of its government is carried forward. It is not asking a lot. It is simply asking that the government do what it wants to do with its own legislation, but to do it now.

I believe if the government were to ask for that one section, we may find that we could get it done. That would send a message to the French family that we have not forgotten it, that we understand the type of terror it went through, we understand the pain it has suffered and still continues to suffer and we understand if this is one small thing we can do, we will do for the family.

I implore the government to consider Mr. and Mrs. French when it thinks about what it can do in the immediate term. For those who perhaps are less familiar with the case, albeit for me to recite the horrors of it because they are horrors, they may want to go back and do a little research to understand that case and what was perpetrated on those young women, the horror the family faced and what it felt like to live in a community that was wretched by fear.

I will not take the time to go through the details because they are absolutely heinous and extremely gory. I would never want to subject anyone, through a debate, to have to listen to those sorts of details. However, people should make themselves aware of it so they can understand what that family lives with every day of its life.

Let me speak to the other side of the bill, which really needs to go to committee to be studied. Like the young man I referenced earlier who had a drunk driving conviction, we need to look at those clauses of the bill. We need to ask ourselves if it is appropriate for the timeline we now have or should it be extended perhaps for him and for others. We need to study it and we need to have expert witnesses who know the criminal justice system and what works and what does not.

Clearly we have examples around the world on things that do work. People do deserve to get pardoned, provided they meet the requirements set out in law, people who are participating in the broader community, who have not committed other offences, who are deemed to be of good character and who are moving on with their lives. As my hon. colleague said earlier, they do not deserve to have a brand put on them for the rest of their lives. They deserve the opportunity to move forward with their lives and we want to see that happen.

However, we need to talk to folks who understand the system and not make law on the fly because of something we see in the newspaper or because we missed one in the case of Mr. James and then rush to try to ensure it works.

One of the provisions in the bill is the three strikes and out. The three strikes and out law in the U.S. does not work. Why do we want to incorporate things that do not work into legislation? We want to make good, appropriate legislation to ensure that it does work for society.

It is about all of us, not just those who ask for a pardon. It is about the broader community. We want everyone to participate in the system so when we say people are pardoned, it is because society says they are and believes in that pardon. Those people can then go forward with their lives knowing full well that whatever punishment they have served, society has said to them to move forward with their lives.

In one of the three strikes and out clauses in the bill, one could be charged with three offences during one crime. If that is the case and one happens to be a younger person, or a not so young person, who commits a crime and is charged with three serious offences, that person would never be pardoned. There could have been all kinds of underlying reasons as to why the person committed that offence at that moment in time. It could have been an impaired mental state, a deep depression, anxiety, some sort of mental breakdown or any number of things that happened at that point in the person's life. This could happen to all of us.

Mental health experts say a great many of us can suffer mental breakdown. Most of us do not want to have that happen to us and when we see it in the broader community, or our families, it is heart-rending. However, to punish people for the rest of their lives based on what happened to them in a moment of time that would never happen again is not appropriate.

It is more appropriate that we take the system, ensure we understand the rules, ensure we review it and allow ourselves to be educated around what works and what does not. We should talk to the John Howard Society and Elizabeth Fry Society. The Salvation Army in my community works with folks in halfway houses to help them integrate into the broader community. There are all manners of occupations and groups around the country that work with folks as they come out of incarceration. They can help us understand what it takes to help them on their way and what we should look for when we pardon them.

Except for those I referenced earlier who should never be pardoned, the Karla Homolkas of this world, we want others to be pardoned. I think all of society wants that. If they fit the criteria, if they have successfully done all of the things society has asked them to do, then it is fair and appropriate of society say that they have met all the requirements put before them and if they request it, they will granted the pardon.

If the government is serious about the pardon system, then it has an obligation to Canadians to ensure it gets it right. It seems we have not done so to date. The very reason the Conservatives have rushed this forward is their acceptance of not getting it right three years ago when they took a quick look at it and put it back on the shelf thinking all is well and now recognize that all is not well.

In my community we recognize that all is not well in the system when we look at a person who should never get a pardon but is about to get one if we do not act. If the government is not going to act on this issue, then clearly the government is going to take responsibility for another individual who should never receive a pardon. It will have to answer why that happened. It will be the government's responsibility, when it had the opportunity to ensure it did not happen, to answer the question as to why it happened.

The act has become bigger than many folks probably thought it would be. I am sure many folks thought it was only about a pardon system and what could be so difficult about that. It is difficult because we are dealing with the future of other human beings and we are dealing with society determining whether it wants to give to other individuals in the broader community the right to move forward with their lives. It is up to us to say that we understand that they have decided to move forward and put their past behind them, that we accept the fact they want to move forward and therefore we grant them that pardon. Without this, in many cases, they will be unable to move forward and it will hang over them for a long time.

The other side of the coin must be that there are those we can never pardon and time is of the essence. I look to the government to say that it will not allow Ms. Homolka to get a pardon and that it will ensure that. Then I can convey that message to the Frenches, that they can rest assured it will never be seen in their lifetime.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 4:40 p.m.
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Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, this is an important issue. I know the member for Welland is one of the strongest advocates that we in the House not forget families like the French family that has suffered so much in the past. I think all members of the House are thinking of the French family today and other families that are impacted by the current situation around pardons.

He has been very eloquent in spelling out the problem. The NDP has urged the government to put forward changes to the Criminal Records Act that could be fast-tracked through the House of Commons. They would not in any way hold up a decisive measure that would avoid the kind of situation we all want to prevent without bringing forward the much broader legislation that has a contrary impact on the lives of a number of other people.

The member for Welland has said very clearly that there is a balance that needs to be maintained. There is also an urgency for action. That is why the NDP has put forward the request to the government to streamline the Criminal Records Act changes, do that in the first stage and ensure that the crimes which shock the conscience of Canadians are not included under pardons. This would head off any possibility of Ms. Homolka getting a pardon.

We put forward this legislation in an effort to fast-track that component of the bill. As yet, the government seems to be resistant to it and prefers a much more difficult, convoluted and, in some parts, poorly drafted bill that does not get the job done on the one hand and will have to be fixed in committee on the other.

The member for Welland has been very articulate on this issue. He is a very strong advocate for the people of his riding and his community who suffered during that period. Why does he think the Conservatives do not seem to be willing to do the right thing in this place right now and streamline the Criminal Records Act changes in a specific way that would resolve this short-term issue and then work with all parties so we could get the broader-based reform that we all want to see? Why have they not done that?