The Pardon in Canada

Getting a pardon in canada originates from the Royal Prerogative of Mercy- a British tradition that gave the ruling monarch the ability to exercise absolute power over persons convicted of criminal acts. Via the Letters Patent, this authority was embodied in the Governor General of Canada; our acting representative of the British Crown. (

Over the decades, helped along by the civil rights movements of the 1960’s and the enactment of legislation such as the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Canada pardon system has evolved into its current form. In theory, it is a nod to the fundamental goal of rehabilitation that pervades our criminal justice system. In practice, the Canada pardon provides individuals with Canadian criminal records a second chance and removes many of the barriers that are associated with having a criminal conviction.

In this day and age of routine background checks, finding employment is perhaps the greatest obstacle faced by people having Canadian criminal records. The fact of the matter is that a person who has a criminal conviction- no matter how petty and no matter how long ago it occurred – will generally be passed over by employers in favour of an applicant who has a clean record. Similarly, a Canadian criminal record prevents a person from being bonded, from performing most types of volunteer work, from adopting children, and from travelling freely to certain countries, most notably the USA. Attempting to cross the US border with a Canadian criminal record could result in vehicle seizure, incarceration, or, at the very least, will make it necessary that a person apply for special permission in order to travel there. This “special permission” is called a US entry waiver and is expensive, complicated, must be renewed every 1 or 5 years, and is not guaranteed. Once a person has been refused entry to the United States, they will require a waiver for the rest of their life.

Aside from these concrete examples of how having a Canadian criminal record can negatively affect a person’s life, we must not forget the emotional impact that being labelled a “criminal” by society can have on a person. People live with feelings of guilt, regret, and shame due to their past mistakes. Individuals with criminal records know that they aren’t “bad” people, but nonetheless have to worry about whether their spouses, relatives, children, coworkers, and neighbours will be quite so forgiving if and when the proverbial cat is let out of the bag. Fortunately, a Canada pardon can end the discrimination faced by people with Canadian criminal records. Once a pardon has been granted, a person’s criminal history is removed from public file. This means that no one can subsequently find out about a person’s past convictions unless the person in question chooses to divulge that information. Background checks will come back clean, employment opportunities will open up, and life can return to normal. We are all extremely lucky to live in a country that espouses liberal values, that believes in second chances, and that is willing to constitutionally guarantee that the rights of individuals are protected. A Canadian criminal record can have serious negative repercussions. And these repercussions tend to creep up repeatedly at the most inopportune and unexpected times. But a past conviction need not become a life sentence. There exists a simple solution to ending discrimination, stigmatization, and shame. Encourage anyone you know who needs one to seek out a Canada pardon and to clear their record of past mistakes.

Comment (0)
Joseph / June 18, 2008

i am not sure i believe in this pardon business. once a criminal always a criminal in my book.

Stephen / June 18, 2008

I disagree. Small time criminals make up the bulk from what I udnedrstand. And everyone makes a mistake. Its just that not everyone gets caught. So you cant penalize people who make a mistake forever. I don’t think that would be in anyone’s best interst except a bunch of right wing fascists. Et voila!

Steve / July 11, 2008

I disagree with you Joseph. I have met several individual that have made mistakes in their past and now have completely changed their lives and are law abiding citizen. I’m speaking of professional accountants and lawyers.

claude / August 28, 2008

Thanks Joseph,
Really objective your vision.

Michael Ashby / September 2, 2008

Well I am glad to see that this blog is generating a little bit of discussion. For the record I would like to say that the vast majority of people seem to believe in the program but apparently a few still remain skeptical of the potential for self improvement that people possess. Too bad I believe. By nature humans will always make mistakes and in a policed society mistakes will sometimes come with a criminal penalty. Thank goodness most of realize a mistake can often be just that and nothing more…a simple mistake.

Thank you again for the discussion.


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