The Tories Were Wrong on Pardons. Let’s Hope the Grits Get it Right.
Shortly after the Liberal Government was elected Ralph Goodale – the New Minister of Public Safety – announced a complete review of the pardon program. It was urgently needed due to the heavy handed changes made under the previous Conservative government.
Tough on Crime Costs Everyone
The changes that were made to the pardon program serve as a good example of why “tough on crime” measures are largely ineffective. In the case of the pardon program the Tories assumed that a hard line stance would be a net benefit to the criminal justice system and society in general. But the opposite has proven to be true.
With pardons down by over 50% it means that more than 13,000 people were unable to effectively enter the workforce compared to previous years. That’s a lot of people stuck at home not contributing to the economy or paying taxes.
We also know that the program was working. With a recidivism rate shy of 4% it was clear by statistics alone that pardons were an effective, reliable and safe means of giving people a legitimate second chance in life. After all, if these people are no longer involved in criminal activity of any kind then what purpose does a criminal record serve?
Clearly the Tories didn’t care and they easily ignored the question that was staring them in the face: if almost no one re-offends after receiving a pardon then what logic is there to restrict the number of pardons being granted?
The Changes Were More About Politics Than Criminal Justice
Stephen Harper for all his failures was an astute politician. When the story surfaced of Graham James receiving a pardon he took the story and ran with it as a way to draw attention to his tough on crime persona. Interestingly however the Conservative government had already reviewed the pardon program and concluded there was little, if anything that needed to be done, so even the Tories believed that the program was effective.
However, the abuser of an NHL hockey star receiving a pardon was too much for the public to ignore and a controversy erupted. While the Liberals tried to maintain a rational view of criminal justice Stephan Harper repeatedly fanned the flames of moral outrage. He never missed an opportunity to appear with Mr. James’ victim in front of a camera. By doing so his hands were tied and if he didn’t crack down on pardons he would surely have appeared weak.
But a single example is not good enough reason to adjust an entire social program that has been so effective at helping people live productive, law abiding lives. Surely there was justification for preventing sexual predators from receiving a pardon but to take a single case and hold it up as an example of why everyone else shouldn’t be able to get a pardon is unworthy of the Prime Minister. It remains a shameful example of political opportunism. But so do most of the conservative tough on crime measures.
What will the Grits do?
It looks like the Liberal government is intent on reversing – or changing – the pardon program to reflect what it used to be, instead of what it has become. Since there have been no specific announcements it is pointless to try and predict what they will do. But since it’s also fun why not? Here are my predictions for what will happen following changes to the pardon program that will be introduced by the Liberal Government:
- The submission fee will be reduced.
- The waiting period for minor crimes will be reduced.
- The waiting period for non-violent crimes will be reduced.
- Sexual offences involving a minor will remain ineligible for a pardon.
- The term record suspension will remain in place of pardon.
- People will continue using the word pardon.
Beyond those few things it’s hard to predict what the Liberals will do. But Ralph Goodale seems to have a solid reputation as a reasonable man and I’m sure that he is will take a more evidence based approach than the Tories did. So with luck we will see the number of pardons being submitted to the Parole Board return to what it was prior to 2012.
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