The Proposals to Deny Pardons

Following Bill C10, the Parole Board of Canada introduced new steps in the record suspension application process. One is the “Measurable Benefit Letter”. Record Suspension applicants must explain their reason for applying and explain the circumstances of his offenses. They must also explain the efforts they have made to change since the incident(s).

In some cases, the Parole Board will deem the explanations brought forward by the applicant as insufficient. In this case it will send what is known as a “Proposal to deny” which is a letter informing the applicant that his application may be refused. They allow the applicant 90 days to send back details that would change the Board’s decision.

Recently one of our clients received a Proposal to Deny Letter because two years before his application had been sent to the PBC he had been acquitted for a mischief to private property. In his response to the letter, he explained that his brother had just been sentenced to three years in prison, and in his confusion and frustration, our client became upset and punched a wall. He was never charged for this, but because a police report was drawn up, the PBC questioned him on the incident and thought it was sufficient reason to deny his application for a record suspension.

Unfortunately the Proposal to Deny Letter has become a way for the Parole Board to deny pardon / record suspension application with very little justification. We’ve seen 90 day letters issued for very insignificant reasons. Most people working in criminal justice understand that the rehabilitation process is more bumpy road than it is smooth ride. Expecting people with criminal records to stay out of trouble with the law is one thing. Expecting them (or anyone) to be perfect model citizens is another.

The reason we see most frequently cited is that awarding the candidate a Pardon may “bring the administration of justice into disrepute”. This is a nonisense clause if we’ve ever heard one. It means nothing more than the Parole Board of Canada can refuse a pardon whenever it wants, for any reason whatsoever.

Given that 97 % of individuals who have been granted a Pardon never reoffend, this seems like an unnecessary requirement. Additionally, the reasons brought forward for these proposals are commonly veering into the territory of the absurd.

We have a client who was recently sent a 90-day letter in response to his application to seal his criminal record, which spans over 15 years, between the 1980s and 1990s. It was a fairly large record by our standards, but he purged all of his sentences, paid all his fines, and has not had a single interaction with the law since 1999/

In the letter, the Parole Board acknowledged all of the above – that our client had met every possible criteria for the application (good conduct for 5/10 years, completion of all fines, etc), that he had provided details explaining his personal rehabilitation (holding a stable job, changing his circle of friends), and outlined the measurable benefits of being granted a Pardon (peace of mind, a better job to provide for his family, greater self-esteem, and so on). But none of these details were sufficient to convince the Board that he wouldn’t reoffend, despite the fact that almost 20 years had elapsed since his last offense. We have to wonder what the motivations are at the Board when an older man who hasn’t had a criminal offence in 20 years is not a worth candidate for a pardon.

Such measures to make the application process more rigid are reflections of the Conservative government’s tough on crime agenda. The Parole Board is becoming almost obstructive in the process of sealing a criminal record, which is a right under the Criminal Records Act.

An article published in the Globe and Mail in September 2013 showed that the Parole Board now sends back around 45% of their applications, as opposed to about 25% in 2010. These figures are discouraging for people applying for a Pardon, because applicants feel as though they are at the whim of an impartial judge who doesn’t really know anything about them.

Is it fair to rob someone of the opportunity to improve themselves? Why should someone continue to pay for their offence every day, despite having completed their sentence over 10 years ago?

Having no criminal record allows people to live up to their potential. It allows them to pursue their full potential and live up to the demands of a law abiding society. It is in the best interest of Canada to allow pardons for everyone possible, without the politicians getting involved to score points.

If you are applying for pardons / record suspensions in Canada you want to make sure your application is squeaky clean because you don’t want the Board scrutinizing your application too closely. If they do you might just find yourself with a Proposal to Deny Letter.

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