Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Saint John—Rothesay for his motion. I support his proposal for the Standing Committee on Public Safety to undertake a study of the record suspension program, formerly known as the pardons program. Specifically, the committee would examine the impact pardons have on people with criminal records who have lived crime-free after serving their sentence. It would also look at the fee required to apply for a criminal record suspension and the potential impact on employment opportunities for people with criminal records, and it would identify ways to improve the system.
I agree with my colleague that the committee's study is essential to understanding the current rehabilitation process. This will be an opportunity for all stakeholders to come together to hear from experts and listen to former offenders who want to fully contribute to society. The additional information will help us get a clear picture of the situation, allowing us to act fairly and appropriately.
When past offenders have paid their debt to society and are sincerely seeking to reintegrate into our community, it is important in the interests of public safety to ensure that they can be productive members of society. The more obstacles we create, the less likely they are in life to succeed. The more obstacles we create, the less safe our communities become. Past offenders who are unable to find work are much more likely to interact with the criminal justice system again.
The Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness has been undertaking a review of the pardons program. This review included examining research on the links between the time an individual spends crime-free and the rates of reoffending, as well as research demonstrating that criminal records can be barriers to reintegration, particularly employment.
As members know, this review of the rehabilitation process also stems from public consultations on the Criminal Records Act and the cost of getting a record suspended.
Our government started this review process to fulfill our commitment to Canadians to look at the changes the previous government made to the criminal justice system.
As my colleagues have already done, I want to stress the importance of rehabilitation as a key step towards successful reintegration into society.
Because of the long wait times and significant costs associated with record suspensions, former offenders face real challenges finding work, as they struggle to find their place in society again.
These challenges also make it difficult to find adequate housing. They make it harder for former offenders to volunteer and give back to the community and limit opportunities to travel abroad. As members of Parliament, we are certainly familiar with how many jobs require travel outside the country. I have heard these criticisms many times.
In my riding of Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, some constituents have come to my office to get help submitting their application to the record suspension program. They shared with me the difficulties they face.
These are people who have reformed and turned their lives around. They are mothers and fathers who need to work and who want to contribute to our society without feeling hounded by their employers or those who vouch for them. They are young adults who made mistakes and who have shown good will.
We must encourage them to become our community leaders and to not turn their backs on society. Our system must foster, not prevent, the social reintegration of those individuals who have demonstrated that they are law-abiding citizens.
Canadians agree that the situation is problematic. The consultations, led by the Department of Public Safety, received about 1,200 online submissions and input from over 70 stakeholders. A further consultation on fees, led by the Parole Board of Canada, received about 1,600 responses.
Here are some of the key findings from both consultations: 96% of participants indicated that the record suspension application fee is too high and that the current waiting periods are too long; the application process is unnecessarily complex; and the purpose of the program should be to help people move forward, making it easier for them to gain employment, and not be a barrier.
A study of the record suspension program by the standing committee would complement the work already undertaken by the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
Law-abiding people with criminal records do not want their records removed so they can slip under the radar; they want them removed so they can be productive members of society, starting with obtaining a job. Having a criminal record can be a major barrier to making that transition.
As the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness has said, the current user fee of $631 appears to be punitive.
Moreover, the record suspension fees and waiting periods are particularly onerous for women. We know that, in 2011, Canadian women earned almost $14,000 less than Canadian men, plus they paid for most family and household expenses. Such figures are all the more alarming considering that people with a record often earn less than the Canadian average.
Barriers to record suspension also have a disproportionate impact on visible minorities, especially indigenous people. Compared to the rest of the Canadian population, indigenous people already face more barriers to housing and employment. That goes double for those with a record, not to mention that indigenous individuals often earn less income than the average Canadian.
Furthermore, although indigenous people account for 3% of the Canadian population, they make up more than a quarter of the admissions to federal correctional institutions. I should also note that one-third of the women in federal penitentiaries are indigenous.
Currently, approximately one out of 10 Canadians has a criminal record. That is 3.8 million people. Since 1970, when the pardon program began, there have been over 500,000 pardons or record suspensions. According to the Parole Board, more than 95% of them remain in effect. In other words, the vast majority of people who receive pardons go on to lead crime-free lives.
However, since the high user fee and longer wait periods were implemented following changes in 2010 and 2012, applications for pardons have decreased by 61%, from 32,000 to 12,400. That is a problem for all of us, because we are all safer and better off when people who have served their time and are living as law-abiding members of society are able to fully reintegrate into their communities.
As the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness has stated:
Our priority is to protect Canadians, and we will do that by implementing evidence-based criminal justice policies that support rehabilitation, prevent crime and victimization, and keep our communities safe.
Once again, I would like to thank the member for Saint John—Rothesay for this motion, and I am proud to support his initiative. If this motion is adopted, I sincerely believe that the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security will conduct a careful and comprehensive study of the record suspension program. The results of that study will enable us to base future recommendations on carefully vetted, pertinent information. It is our duty to work together to better understand the programs within the pardon system so we can help people reintegrate and keep everyone safe.