It is hard to imagine a more mean spirited and illogical approach to criminal justice than the tough on crime agenda being pursued by the Conservative government. Not only is it counter-productive it is fiscally irresponsible.
Their approach to the pardon issues is a clear case of an administration that prefers punishment over fair and sensible social policy, even when fair and sensible comes with an obvious financial benefit to society.
The conservatives are willing to spend billions on new prisons. Price is no concern for minimum sentences and rigid parole policies. But for those people who have made a mistake involving the law and who wish to put that mistake in the past by applying for a pardon, there is not a penny to be found.
There is a very simple argument to be made for keeping the cost of a pardon within reach of the average person because a majority of people seeking pardons are doing so to get a job. It makes sense to facilitate that transition because a criminal record makes it very difficult to find employment. In this day and age criminal background checks are more common than ever.
What sense can it make to put up barriers for people who only want to move with their lives and find work? If our society cannot make a pardon affordable then we have not only lost sight of fair social policy, we have also lost sight of basic economics. People with work pay taxes. The unemployed do not. They also happen to have more frequent encounters with the law.
During the review of Bill C-23B at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security I argued exactly this point, although the potential cost increase at that time was only to $500. I was assured by Dave Mackenzie, Conservative MP for Oxford Ontario that I was mistaken and that the fee would only increase to $150. Yet here we are again.
Raising the fee for a pardon from only $50 as recently as December of 2010 to over $600 just a few months later, is a good example of missing the forest for the trees. Pardons are not about victims and they are not about punishment. Pardons are about rehabilitation and reintegration. They are about allowing people to become contributing members of society. Pardons are good for everyone because a contributing member of society is far less likely to re-offend than those held back at every turn.
On the other hand maybe pardons are about victims as well. Because a program that does so much to stop the cycle of crime does more to prevent future victimization than any tough on crime agenda could ever hope to.
Keeping pardons affordable, therefore, is the responsibility of a fair and just society.