A comma is a powerful thing, thoughts on Bill C-10

An interesting development came out of a quick trip to Ottawa yesterday. I was invited by John Hutton of the John Howard society to attend a press conference denouncing the Conservative’s Omnibus Crime Bill C-10, specifically the section that deals with pardons.

Bill C-10 contains a measure to deny pardons to anybody convicted of more than three indictable offences. However, the way this particular section of the bill was written leaves it open to interpretation, although it is not quite as ambiguous as I originally thought.

Language is a tricky thing to manage. A simple comma can change the meaning of an entire paragraph.

See the section on three strikes below. When I originally read this measure online I could not see the comma preceding requirement that each offence be sentenced to more than 2 years in prison (printed in italics below). Without the comma the 2 years could apply to both the indictable offence criteria AND the service offence criteria, or to only the service offence. As it stands I now believe that the two years or more applies to both. But I could be wrong. Language is a tricky thing.

 Here is the clause. Have a read and make your own decision on its actual meaning:

(2) Subject to subsection (3), a person is ineligible to apply for a record suspension if he or she has been convicted of

  • (b) more than three offences each of which either was prosecuted by indictment or is a service offence that is subject to a maximum punishment of imprisonment for life, and for each of which the person was sentenced to imprisonment for two years or more.

Three strikes is still a remarkably short sighted social policy. But I can personally confirm that hundreds of our clients we thought would be ineligible for a pardon will remain eligible. And it’s all because of a comma in a paragraph.

Of course that is how I am interpreting the bill. It could probably be debated. Perhaps it’s a conversation to be saved for a Charter challenge.


Comment (0)
grammarslammerbammer / October 19, 2011

“Let’s eat Grandpa!”


“Let’s eat, Grandpa!”

Shows how important punctuation is.

Roger / March 27, 2014

Does this new law applied to old indictable charges or new or both?

Michael Ashby / March 27, 2014

Hi Roger,

It applies to all charges regardless of when the conviction took place.



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