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Public Forum on the New Pardon System

Nicole And I were Invited to participate in the following public forum on the pardons legislation. We will me speaking members of the panel along with representatives from the St. Leonard’s Society of Ottawa, the John Howard Society of Ottawa, and representatives from the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies.

Below is the press release for this event.

For immediate release

April 4, 2013 (Ottawa) – The Criminalization and Punishment Education Project (CPEP) invites students, academics, and all members of the community to participate in an  pen discussion on the changes that were made to the pardon system in March 2012. This event will include a panel of speakers who work in the community helping criminalized individuals with various issues (education, employment, housing, and applying for pardons), as well as accounts from those who have been directly affected by the recent changes.

On March 13, 2012 the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) began processing pardon applications under new guidelines informed by the amendments to the Criminal Records Act under Bill C-23B (via Bill C-10, the omnibus bill). Most significantly, this law doubles the wait periods for eligibility and excludes certain people from applying for a pardon altogether. These changes, combined with a new $631 application fee, contribute to the ongoing stigmatization and hamper the reintegration of individuals who have completed their sentences and are now looking to move beyond their past actions.

A backlog of more than 22,000 files at the PBC is also a factor in the ongoing criminalization of many applicants who have waited up to three years to have a decision made about the concealing of their criminal records. “Granting a pardon is an important element of the reintegration process as it opens up more opportunities for education, employment, and housing”, states Samantha McAleese, a recent graduate of the M.A. Criminology Program at the University of Ottawa.

This event will be held at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Social Sciences (FSS) Building (120 University Private) in room 1007 on Friday, April 5, 2013 from 6:00pm to 7:30pm. Speakers will include front-line workers from the St. Leonard’s Society of Ottawa, the John Howard Society of Ottawa, and representatives from the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies and the National Pardon Centre. The event will also feature first-hand accounts of those whose efforts to rebuild their lives and move beyond their pasts have been frustrated by the recent changes to the pardon system. There will be a question and answer period after the panel presentation.

The CPEP is a group of academics and students from Carleton University and the University of Ottawa who work to raise awareness and educate the public on criminalization and punishment practices in Canada and abroad. “Most of the changes to the pardon system were a reaction to a few sensationalized cases in the media”, states Samantha McAleese, Esther Armstrong, and Alexandria Organ, all members of the CPEP group. “This practice of developing penal policy based on a selection of high-profile cases is a precarious one, and in this situation it is sure to produce many negative consequences for individuals who do not deserve to endure ongoing punishment and criminalization”.
For more information:

Samantha McAleese (MA Criminology)
Member, CPEP
Email: smcal078@uottawa.ca
www.cpep-pscs.sagsc.org /CPEPgroup

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anoymous / April 8, 2013

Michael, I wish you and your fellow speakers all the best at this forum. Hopefully, there will be people in the audience who are open to looking at this issue in a different way. Otherwise, everyone will just be preaching to the converted.

I know that there are many perspectives here on this issue, and I don’t claim to own a superior one (although, as is evidenced by my very original username and the fact that I’m here, I’m one of the 22,000+ people stuck in the Kafka novel that is more ordinarily known as the Parole Board of Canada). However, with this being said, here are some of my observations and insights:

The concept of pardons (I’m just going to call them that for consistency and…laziness) has been framed by the government — quite effectively, it must be acknowledged — through a “public safety” lens and not necessarily a “crime and punishment” one.

Indeed, that’s why the spectre of Hamolka and James were invoked to drive through the changes back in 2010 and then again in 2012. It’s not that Canadians necessarily want people with criminal records to be punished further; I frankly don’t think, generally speaking, they care all that much. It’s not in their top 10 list of things they want changed or fixed about this country.

But when it comes to public safety – that’s an entirely different matter. Who doesn’t want to be safer? Who doesn’t want to be protected from “bad people”? Who doesn’t want to live in a country that protects its citizens?

All of these (comically) loaded questions are rhetorically posed by special interests (and yes, I certainly include the government of the day as a special interest group – how can it be otherwise when they keep reminding you every week or so that that’s precisely what they are, and are proud of it?). And all of these questions lead to the kind of absurd truisms that you get when a lawyer questions his or her own client. It’s not remotely an exercise in information gathering. It’s like self-pitching a ball over the fence and cheering a home run. (There is actually another solitary activity, often involving lotions and magazines, that would work here – but why go there? 😉

Anyway, it’s because the debate has been framed so effectively as a public safety one and not as a crime/punishment one, that those who advocate a more sensible and rational approach to the pardon system are effectively characterized as DANGEROUS. This is an extremely important point and, in my view, the fulcrum of this remarkably cynical construct: that if you support pardons, you are supporting DANGER, and if you are against pardons, then you are supporting SAFETY.

It goes without saying (a funny thing to say when one is about to say it, huh?) that “trapped” in this paradigm, people in favor of pardons have all but lost the (non) argument before it starts.
In response to this, some – not all – well-meaning and informed advocates of restoring the intellectually honest foundation of the pardon system have tried valiantly to re-frame the debate back into a crime/punishment one. But they have failed, because the government has carved out the position that is (and they know this) more appealing to our reptilian brains, which are governed by a safe/unsafe dichotomy.

So in other words, those in favor of pardons make elegant and impressive arguments that are based on logic, emotion and all of the other things that they teach you to do on debate teams – and those against pardons scream KARLA HAMOLKA or GRAHAM JAMES and win the way. It’s infuriating – but that’s what’s happening.

There is a point to all of this babble, and it’s this:

I would suggest and even urge you and your associates to do something a bit…odd. Instead of trying to pull the debate back into one about crime/punishment (where, of course, it should be and was when the pardon system was first created), I think you should do a 180 and actually make it ABOUT public safety.

That is: society is SAFER when it bestows more pardons to more people. Because in my view, re-integration into society is not optional; 100% of people WILL re-integrate into society – there is no other option (and so even talking about it creates a false dichotomy; we don’t ask for glasses of wet water).

The question, though, is whether that re-integration will be more or less safe. Pardons make society safer. You WANT the guy next door to have a pardon – that means he’ll get a legitimate job and have a vested interest to avoid a lifestyle that exposes him to recidivism (lest he lose his pardon). You DON’T WANT the guy next door to have no options but to earn money in the underground economy or through illicit means. That’s not safe.

I think when Canadians realize that they are actually making society LESS SAFE by limiting pardons, they will see this issue in a new light – and will force their elected officials to do the same (as we all know, politicians aren’t windows to the future…they’re mirrors of their electorate).

Again, I wish you and your associates the best of luck. Things can and do change. And sometimes, it doesn’t take much more than a paradigm adjustment.

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Anonymous / May 11, 2013

My papers are at the parole board since may 2011 and i still dont have a wisper of where my demand is. I always get differents answers when i call them up and they even told me that i should forget my $150 that i payed has fees for the treatment of my demand and i had to start over again all the process from beginning and pay them the $631 that they now charge. But what will they do with my $150? Why isnt all the official papers and finger prints not taken in consideration? Why start from scratch? I’m not ritch and i’ll be 50. Where do you put my $150 in your accounting book if i payed for a service i try to get? I’m insulted.

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Michael Ashby / May 13, 2013

Hi Anon,

You are in the same boat as the other 22,000 people whose lives have been put on hold by the Conservative government. Not much to do I’m afraid but either wait or start over from scratch.

Michael

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