Mr. Speaker, to recap where I was, I was encouraging all hon. member to support our government and Bill C-23 and to work in co-operation with our government to ensure the swift passage of this important legislation through Parliament.
One key element of the bill, which I have mentioned, is a shift in the use of terminology from pardon to record suspension throughout the Criminal Records Act. We need to be clear about what this mechanism does and does not do.
We consider the term “record suspension” to better reflect the purpose of the legislation which is to close off general access to a criminal record in appropriate cases as opposed to expressing forgiveness for the offence. This change in terminology is an important one in terms of reinforcing the role of this legislation and eliminating pardons for serious crimes.
The government is clear in Bill C-23 that in order to be eligible for a record suspension an applicant must not have been convicted of an offence involving sexual activity relating to a minor as set out in the schedule of offences in the bill. This includes those with a conviction, for example, of sexual interference or sexual exploitation of a child or luring a child, all serious and grave offences that we do not believe ever warrant a record suspension.
Further, eligibility for record suspensions will be more restrictive in that individuals convicted of more than three indictable offences will not be eligible to apply for a record suspension. We believe this is a fair balance between those with a few youthful indiscretions and those with serious repeat criminal histories. In addition, the waiting period to apply for a record suspension for summary offences will be increased from three to five years and from five to ten years for indictable offences. We believe this sends a strong message that the ineligibility period must reflect the seriousness of the crime committed.
Bill C-23 also proposes significant amendments to the Criminal Records Act to end what many view as a virtual automatic process of granting pardons. As we have indicated, the legislation will provide the National Parole Board with the discretion required to ensure individuals convicted of serious crimes will not be eligible for a record suspension. It will also establish multifaceted criteria that must be considered to ensure the ordering of a record suspension is appropriate and does not bring our justice system into disrepute. The bill gives the National Parole Board the tools it needs and which are currently lax.
Under the new system, the changes our government is proposing would authorize the board to examine factors such as nature, gravity and duration of an offence when it is considering applications for those convicted of indictable offences. As well, the board may consider the circumstances surrounding the commission of that offence and information relating to an applicant's criminal history in making its decision. We believe these are sensible additions to the legislative scheme.
There is also a new level of accountability built into the record suspension making process. Those convicted of an indictable offence would need to prove to the National Parole Board that receiving a record suspension would contribute to his or her rehabilitation. This places an onus squarely on the applicant to satisfy the National Parole Board that this condition is met.
The proposed reforms in Bill C-23 will also bring about more transparency through a report to Parliament on an annual basis from the National Parole Board, which will include statistics on the number of applicants for record suspensions and the number of record suspensions ordered for both summary conviction and indictable offences indexed by offence and province and residence of the applicant.
Further openness and scrutiny of the decision-making process will be achieved through public access to the National Parole Board's decisions regarding orders or refusals for record suspensions. This will be done in a way that does not compromise the privacy of the concerned individuals unless they consent to such disclosure.
In closing, Bill C-23 contains a comprehensive package of vital amendments and I urge all hon. members to give Bill C-23 speedy passage through the House so that these new measures can be implemented without delay.