Pardon fee a ‘significant’ barrier, many say

About 10 per cent of Canadians — over three million people — have a criminal record

OTTAWA — The $631 fee to apply for a criminal pardon poses a substantial hurdle for people trying to turn their lives around, said a large majority of those who responded to a federal consultation.

Eighty per cent indicated the fee is a significant barrier while 16 per cent considered it a modest barrier, says a newly released briefing note about the consultation results.

A formal report of the findings is still being prepared, but The Canadian Press used the Access to Information Act to obtain the internal note as well as copies of comments from many respondents.

“I find the fees are impossible for a limited income person,” wrote one. “I have completed my assigned punishments long ago but no one in New Brunswick will hire me.”

A single indigenous mother having trouble getting work because of her criminal record suggested some of the fee be deducted from a future paycheque. “I only want to live a positive life for my children and myself.”

Wrote another respondent: “Cost of application is expensive for those on limited income, many of whom may be on disability.”

The consultation led by the Parole Board of Canada is part of a sweeping Liberal review of Harper government changes that made people wait longer and pay more to obtain a pardon, which was renamed a record suspension.

The review comes as the Trudeau government moves to legalize recreational marijuana — an effort that has prompted calls to pardon the thousands of people saddled with a criminal record for personal pot use.

About 10 per cent of Canadians — over three million people — have a criminal record. A suspension doesn’t erase a record, but can make it easier to get a job, travel and generally contribute to society.

Under the Conservative changes that took effect in 2012, lesser offenders — those with a summary conviction — must wait five years instead of three before they can apply for a suspension. Offenders who have served a sentence for a more serious crime — an indictable offence — must wait 10 years instead of five.

In addition, the cost of applying quadrupled to $631 from $150 to ensure full cost recovery. The Conservatives said taxpayers should not subsidize the cost of pardons.

The changes came after The Canadian Press revealed that former hockey coach Graham James, a convicted sex abuser, had obtained a pardon.

The office of Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said last year the government would review the waiting period, fee and new name with a view to considering fairness, proportionality and the role expunging a criminal record plays in rehabilitation.

The parole board’s online consultation drew 1,607 responses. In addition, the board received a number of emails and letters.

“Many respondents indicated that the current fee is an insurmountable financial burden and deters individuals from seeking a record suspension,” says the September 2016 briefing note to Goodale.

Both a summary offence application and one for an indictable offence cost the full $631.

The consultation survey said the parole board was “exploring a number of costing options” for the fee, including a lower price for people convicted of minor offences — a reflection of the fact there is generally less work required to process a summary application.

The briefing note says the parole board met with officials from Public Safety to discuss ”option scenarios” before drawing up more formal proposals. The details were withheld from release.

Goodale’s office said Public Safety will publicly report on the fee review and a broader examination of record suspensions in the coming months.

“The results of these consultations will be used to guide reforms.”

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