In January 2016, Public Safety Ministry Ralph Goodale told CBC news that reforming the Criminal Records Act would be a priority for the newly elected Liberal government. He, along with many others, agreed that the elimination of Canada’s pardon system by the previous Conservative government was unnecessarily punitive. Nearly two years later – after two constitutional challenges and two public consultations – we have yet to see any movement on this issue.
You do not have to do much research to learn about the negative impact of the record suspension regime that replaced Canada’s pardon system. Since 2012, the media has highlighted many instances of hardship experienced by people with criminal records across the country due to longer wait times before eligibility as well as higher application fees. In 2013, CTV news spoke to David Arnold from Fredericton and Gilles from Montreal who were both struggling to find full-time work due to their criminal records. In 2016, CBC news spoke to Alia Pierini who expressed difficulty finding adequate housing and frustration at not being able to volunteer at her children’s school. Stories such as this are the norm amongst the approximately 3.8 million Canadians who have a criminal record and who are just trying to move on with their lives.
Apart from these personal stories, two constitutional challenges – one in Ontario and the other in British Columbia – also demonstrate the complete lack of fairness within the current version of the Criminal Records Act. Additionally, two public consultation reports highlight the barriers created by the $631 application fee and indicate support for a free and automatic record expungement process in Canada.
How much more needs to be said? Enough is enough – it is time for reform.
If folks at Public Safety are truly stuck on how to proceed with these reforms, they need only refer to suggestions made throughout their own public consultation process. Listen to the experiences of people who have criminal records. Listen to organizations who work with criminalized individuals – some of them have made their suggestions for reform very clear. Listen to experts, frontline workers, lawyers, advocates, family members, and other individuals in the community who are affected because somebody they know has a criminal record. Public Safety can even refer to their own statistics that tell us 95% of the more than 500,000 pardons granted by the Parole Board of Canada since 1970 remain in effect – indicating that pardoned individuals are no more likely to commit a crime than are other Canadians.
Here’s hoping that we do not have to wait too much longer to see meaningful reforms to the Criminal Records Act, reforms that will repair the stress and hardship caused by changes that were not needed in the first place.
Samantha McAleese is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Sociology at Carleton University in Ottawa. Her research focuses on the impact of the changes made to the Criminal Records Act. Samantha can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org – or connect with her on Twitter @Sam_McAleese