The 5 and 10 year waiting periods
Prior to the Conservative government’s omnibus crime bill people convicted of a crime in Canada would have to wait either 3 or 5 years for their eligibility for pardons. Then the waiting period was changed to 3, 5 or 10 years. Now it’s only 5 or 10 years. This should be confusing if you’re coming across it for the first time.
Let me explain. In Canada we have what are called summary and indictable offences and it is a simple way of classifying crimes and small stuff or big stuff. The 3 year waiting period that we had in the past applied to summary convictions while the 5 year waiting period applied to indictable convictions.
But then the media got wind of some exceptional cases that it knew would outrage the public. First a journalist discovered that Graham James had been granted a pardon. Then another figured out that Karla Homolka would soon become eligible for a pardon.
The public was outraged.
At this time the Conservative’s only had a minority government so when the Tories originally proposed that the waiting periods be changed to 5 and 10 years (in addition to other things) there was obviously a big debate. The result was bill C23A which changed the waiting periods, just not quite as drastically as the Tories version of the bill, Bill C23. Amazingly the house passed the watered down version of the bill without even blinking.
So for a little while the waiting periods were 3 years for summary offences, 5 years for indictable offences and then 10 years for serious personal injury and sexual offences. This made sense. I didn’t hear anyone in the criminal justice community upset that violent and sexual offenders needed to wait longer for a pardon. On the other hand, I didn’t hear anyone anywhere saying that small time offenders needed to wait longer.
While the contents of Bill C23A were remarkably pragmatic and the results ultimately a positive changed the Tories, of course, thought there was more to be done. And sadly, the Conservative government ultimately obtained a majority government and it ran on a tough on crime platform. Even though the 3 – 5 – 10 criteria makes a lot of sense, the Tories didn’t agree and the law was changed….again.
My point in all this is that it now takes people much, much longer to become eligible for a pardon. And since so many crimes are what we call hybrid offences – meaning the prosecution can go after you for a summary conviction or an indictable conviction, depending on their mood – it is wise to know which is which if you ever find yourself on the wrong side of the law.
Lawyers always want you to plead guilty. It is the simplest way to get things done and keep the backlogged court system from imploding. If you know that you want a pardon 5 years later rather than 10 it’s a good idea to know if your charge is a hybrid offence. If it is, and you plan to make a plea bargain, just make sure you get charged summarily and not by indictment.
Mind you, the best advice is this: don’t get arrest in the first place because at the moment Canada still has pardons. But who knows for how long?