That the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security be instructed to undertake a review of the Criminal Records Act and report to the House within three months on how it could be strengthened to ensure that the National Parole Board puts the public’s safety first in all its decisions.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House and introduce this motion. All of us have heard over the past few weeks about the high profile cases, which have served to highlight potential shortcomings with the current pardon system in Canada. This is a very timely motion and I am proud of its introduction.
Earlier this week our government tabled legislation to amend the Criminal Records Act and eliminate pardons for serious crimes. Our government believes the system should not put the rights of criminals ahead of the rights of victims and law-abiding citizens.
The current pardon system implies that whatever the offender did is somehow okay, or is forgiven, or that the harm done has somehow disappeared. I disagree.
Under the current system, pardons are granted almost automatically, but the new system would change that. Let me talk about the six points.
First, the legislation would eliminate pardons and replace it with more restrictive and narrowly worded such as “record suspension”. As an editorial from one of our Saskatchewan newspapers recently noted with regard to the Graham James pardon:
There is just something that seems inherently wrong about using the word “pardon” in reference to a man who violated the most sacred trust in sports--the trust between a coach and his players--and has yet to apologize for it, or show any remorse for it.
Second, those convicted of sexual offences against minors will be permanently ineligible for a record suspension.
Third, those convicted of more than three indictable offences will also be permanently ineligible for a record suspension.
Fourth, in all other cases, the legislation will increase the period of ineligibility for a record suspension, which is the waiting time to apply, to five years for summary conviction offences and to 10 years for indictable offences.
Fifth, the onus will be on the applicant to show that a record suspension would help sustain his or her rehabilitation as a law-abiding member of society.
Finally, the proposed legislation sets out conditions that must be met to ensure a record suspension would not bring the administration of justice into disrepute. To make this determination, the Parole Board would examine factors such as the nature, gravity and the duration of the offence, as well as circumstances and the applicant's criminal history. Under the present system, the only distinction that can be made between each applicant is whether he or she was convicted of a summary or an indictable offence.
For summary convictions, the same rules apply to everyone. Offenders need to wait three years after completing their sentence and remain conviction free in order to receive a pardon. The same is true for indictable offences. In those cases, each and every offender needs to wait five years and then demonstrate to the board that he or she is of good conduct before they become eligible to receive a pardon.
Essentially under the current system pardons are granted almost automatically. This is definitely wrong. The rights of criminals should never, and I repeat, should never come before compassion for victims.
As Sheldon Kennedy said, “It was a lot of hard work to be able to move out of being a victim, to be able to move into a role of finding a solution. And I think that there is no accountability at all on anybody and having them show that they've changed. It's just about waiting out your time”.
He goes on to say:
I think we underestimate as a country the damage that abuse has on youth.
I think it just holds people accountable for what they've done....
Our government has always put the safety of law-abiding Canadians first and we have always believed that every victim matters, which is why we are undertaking reforms to the justice system and why we are determined to push ahead with further changes.
Over the last four years, Canadians have been telling us that we are on the right track. They have said that our tough on crime policies and our initiatives to help victims are what they want to see from the government.
I therefore look forward to working with all hon. members of the House to ensure that measures to improve the pardon system in this country are passed as quickly as possible.