Record Suspensions – Introduction

Are you confused about the difference between a record suspension and a pardon in Canada? National Pardon Centre is here to clear up any misunderstandings around these terms, their meaning, and their current use.

On May 11, 2010 the Conservative Minority Government proposed changes to Canada’s pardon system following a series of sensational media stories. It started with the revelation that Graham James had a received a pardon. The story sparked outrage since Mr. James’s story was widely circulated in the media due to the involvement of a former NHL player.

Further Reading on the Graham James controversy:

Following the media outbreak, the Conservative government quickly proposed bill C23. However, at the time the Conservatives had a minority government and needed to rely on the Liberals or NDP to pass the bill. Since the bill was typically heavy handed, neither party endorsed it. However, the media storm was enough to convince the NDP to introduce a watered down version of the bill in order to pass some of the less controversial measures. Bill C23 was then split into Bill C23A and C23B.

Following the Graham James story another story broke out which revealed that Karla Homolka would soon be eligible for a pardon. This was unthinkable for the average Canadian who was even remotely familiar with the story of Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo. Shortly after the Homolka story broke, Bill C23A easily passed in the House of Commons thereby preventing her from ever applying for a pardon.

Further Reading on Bill C23

Pardons after Bill C23 A

In March 2011 the minority government under Stephen Harper was dissolved following a no confidence motion. Most people in the criminal justice system thought that the issue of pardons was finished. But in the election that followed the dissolution of parliament Stephen Harper was able to win a majority government. He campaigned with a message of being tough on crime, promising to introduce an omnibus crime bill that would bring sweeping changes to Canada’s criminal justice system. That bill was Bill C10 and the remaining items from Bill C23 were included. Some of the proposed changes included in Bill C10 are as follows:

  • The term “pardon” to be replaced by “record suspension”
  • Providing the Parole Board of Canada absolute discretion to grant or deny a pardon (record suspension)
  • Longer waiting periods for both summary and indictable offences
  • Elimination of the possibility for pardon to anyone with 3 or more indictable offences
  • Elimination of pardons for anyone with sexual offences involving a minor
  • Applicants will be required to prove that a pardon will provide a “measureable benefit” to the applicant

The above points represent only the bill’s highlights. It was an extensive overhaul aimed at tightening up the Canadian pardon system and making sure that fewer people were granted pardons than in previous years. Following the passing of the bill applications for record suspensions dropped almost 50% compared to applications for pardons.

Further Reading:

Record Suspensions after Bill C10

The most notable result of the omnibus crime bill that changed pardons to record suspensions has been the drastic decline in the number of Canadians applying for a pardon. In addition, the legislative changes created an enormous backlog at the Parole Board of Canada for pardons applications that got in just before the new laws took effect.

Read more on the pardons backlog

Apply for a record suspension

Part of the reason so few people are applying for record suspensions compared to pardons (prior to March 2012) is because of the increased waiting period required to become eligible for a record suspension. Waiting periods for indictable offences were doubled from 5 years to 10. For summary offences the waiting period was increased from 3 years to 5.

Read more on Pardon Eligibility and Waiting Periods for a record suspension

Fewer applications for record suspensions than pardons

Another reason for the decline in applications is the new cost structure for a record suspension. A pardon was once $50 to file with the Parole Board of Canada. But it was increased to $631 under the Conservative government. Many Canadians with criminal records say it is increasingly difficult to find decent employment with a criminal record and for someone looking for work the higher cost for a record suspension is insurmountable.

Good news about record suspensions

The good news is that even though we had a tough on crime Conservative government for over ten years the pardon program still exists. Changing the term from pardon to record suspension is not important after all. What is important is the effect the application has on your life.

If you are still able to apply for a record suspension then the effect of it will be the exact same as it would have been applying under the pardon program. The name change is purely symbolic.

If you require a record suspension, it is best to get started right away. But if you’re not sure you are eligible, feel free to get in touch with one of our counsellors. We will evaluate your eligibility free of charge and begin preparing a record suspension application right away if you‘re ready.

Call us: 1-866-242-2411 8:30am – 5:00pm Monday to Friday