Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon to the honourable members of the committee. I would like to thank you for the invitation to speak with you today in relation to your study on the record suspension program.
I would like to start by introducing myself and my two colleagues here with me at the table. I'm Daryl Churney. I'm the Executive Director General of the Parole Board of Canada. Joining me today are Brigitte Lavigne, who is the Director of Clemency and Record Suspensions at the PBC, and our colleague, Angela Connidis, Director General of Crime Prevention in the Corrections and Criminal Justice Directorate at Public Safety.
We are pleased to appear before you today and to provide the committee with information about the record suspension program to help inform your study.
As you're likely aware, the PBC is an independent administrative tribunal that is part of the criminal justice system. It makes quality conditional release and record suspension decisions, orders expungement, and makes clemency recommendations.
The PBC contributes to the protection of society by facilitating as appropriate the timely reintegration of offenders as law-abiding citizens. Public safety is the primary consideration in all PBC decisions. Under the Criminal Records Act, the PBC may order, refuse to order or revoke a record suspension. A record suspension allows people who are convicted of a criminal offence but who have completed their sentence and demonstrated they are law-abiding citizens for a prescribed number of years to have their record kept separate and apart from other criminal records in the Canadian Police Information Centre, or CPIC, database. This means that a search of CPIC will not show that the individual has a criminal record.
However, that record does still exist and suspended records can be disclosed with the approval of the Minister of Public Safety. For example, suspended records of former sexual offenders are flagged in the CPIC database, and therefore, if such an individual applies to work with vulnerable populations such as children or the elderly, that record may be disclosed.
Record suspensions fundamentally help to remove the stigma associated with a criminal record and assist individuals to reintegrate into society. They do this by assisting individuals to access employment, volunteer and educational opportunities. Record suspensions can also be ceased or revoked if the person is convicted of a new offence or is found to have made a false or misleading statement when applying.
Since 1970 more than 500,000 Canadians have received pardons and record suspensions, and 95% of these are still in force.
In 1994-95 the Treasury Board of Canada approved the introduction of a $50 user fee for the processing of a pardon application. That fee represented just a portion of the cost incurred by PBC and the RCMP to process such an application. Since the introduction of the user fee, the cost to the PBC to process a pardon application has risen. As an interim measure, a $150 user fee was adopted by Parliament and came into effect in 2010. The fee was further increased in March 2012 to $631, the present fee, based on a full-cost recovery approach that represented the cost of processing a pardon application following the coming into force of the Limiting Pardons for Serious Crimes Act. The $631 user fee also came with service standards.
In 2016 the board undertook an online consultation on the record suspension user fee and its related service standards. Stakeholders, including former, current and future record suspension applicants, advocacy organizations, indigenous groups and members of the public were invited to participate in that consultation. In 2017 PBC shared the results of this study. Their survey revealed that overall a majority of respondents, 63%, felt the current record suspension application process was long and complicated, hindering their access to the program. They also indicated that the time needed to gather information to support their application was too long and labour-intensive. This included having to deal with various police agencies and courts.
A majority of respondents, 80%, also indicated that the current user fee is high and represents a significant barrier as it imposes a financial burden that many applicants cannot afford. Eligibility periods were also seen as unfair and negatively affecting rehabilitation.
The current operating environment at the Parole Board is challenging due in part to recent litigation in Ontario and British Columbia as a result of court decisions. Changes made to the Criminal Records Act in 2010 and 2012 may no longer be applied retrospectively for applicants living in those provinces. As a result, applications must now be processed according to the legislative requirements in one of three versions of the Criminal Records Act. This means that the PBC must triage and process all applications it receives through three separate CRA schemes. Despite this challenge, the PBC continues to strive to ensure that the records suspension program is as accessible and as straightforward as possible for applicants.
Information on the application process is available on our website, including the official application guide and forms, an online self-assessment tool, a step-by-step video tutorial, a video on how to avoid common mistakes and a number of frequently asked questions. The board has also dedicated a 1-800 line for applicants, a walk-in service and a dedicated email address for applicants.
ln 2017-18, the PBC received 14,661 record suspension applications, about 75% of which were accepted for processing. The main reasons for not accepting applications at screening were that the person was found to be ineligible, a lack of payment or the wrong fee was remitted, and/or missing documentation. However, I would point out that service standards for processing were fully met for 99.9% of files.
Finally, I would like to thank the committee again for its invitation today. We look forward to answering your questions and helping inform your studies.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.