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:

  1. The submission fee will be reduced.
  2. The waiting period for minor crimes will be reduced.
  3. The waiting period for non-violent crimes will be reduced.
  4. Sexual offences involving a minor will remain ineligible for a pardon.
  5. The term record suspension will remain in place of pardon.
  6. 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.

If you have any questions simply get in touch.

Michael Ashby



Comments (8)
Sad2BCanadian / November 8, 2016

Good to see at least some progress being made, however late it might be!

Michael Ashby / November 8, 2016

Thanks for the heads up. I think it’s pretty clear which way the government is leaning on this. Let’s hope they move on it sooner than later.


Sad2BCanadian / November 8, 2016

No problem. I must say that in the past few years since these changes were made, this blog has been somewhat of a beacon of hope for those it affects. Your site is a place for those affected to stay up to date and informed, as well as to feel connected with others facing the same issues. Although im sure your primary goal is helping people with pardons, IMO your blog has an even more widespread impact in todays digital information age.

Hopefully your prevalent online presence helps spread the word of these consultations, which I feel are generally out of the general public’s view. It makes one wonder how intentional the under-the-radar and barely-publicized consulation really is, especially launching at a time when the news is so obviously saturated with US election related information.

Hopefully enough people hear about and spread the news of these consultations and other milestones on the road towards change, so that the new structures are fair, actually reflective of the peoples wishes (and study statistics) and completed in a timely fashion with accountability to the people on the goverments part!

Michael Ashby / November 9, 2016

Kind words. Thank you. I’m glad I could be of help, but to be honest I’m not really sure I made much difference.

Best regards,


Dorothy / April 20, 2017

I in 1984 I was charged and put on probation for 18months I did everything that was asked of me then I finished my probation and went on to be married and have kids and grandkids now I am asking you why do people who have completed everything that was asked of us and never had any other criminal stuff on their records still have to pay for the expensive Pardon to get removed and not be able to make ends meet on a disability that is not so very much I would love to go back to work with companies that require a criminal check and ​not be told that I am not going to be hired I feel that the Justice System is taking advantage of the people who have only been in trouble Once in their lives My Question to you is that I would like to see one time with the law could get pardoned or their records Abolished

Sad2BCanadian / April 24, 2017

Finally a victory and some definitive good news! Perhaps you will want to post this Michael, as Im sure many will be encouraged to hear it. Even though (to quote lawyer Michael Spratt) this BC court decision is not automatically binding on the Supreme Court of Canada, this decision is at least persuasive and shows that there are those within the judicial system who agree that the changes to pardon law breach our Charter provided rights as Canadian citizens. And also, the nondescript comment at the bottom from Ralph Goodale (that the BC decision is being reviewed to determine the next steps towards changing the system), is confirmation that this is being addressed by the Liberal government. If this situation continues to receive the media attention it deserves, it will be very difficult to bury in red tape and put on a backburner with the other unacknowledged promises.

As someone who regularly checks the news about pardons, only to be disappointed by the lack of progress in this area, it is encouraging to finally see some developments. Hopefully the Honorable Mr. Goodale and the liberals will address this expeditiously, now that they’ve announced, reviewed, and had well over a year to consider it. Plus im sure that now that they have addressed the legality of Cannabis (which was an important campaign promise and a much larger priority, Im sure), they will give this situation the timely attention it deserves.

Congratulations to Mr Chu for fighting for his right to obtain the pardon he deserves by law. Its inspiring to see someone fight for what’s right both in the face of overwhelming odds and against the formidable resources of the Canadian Government and Attorney General.

Sad2BCanadian / June 19, 2017

Another bit of good news indicating positive changes to come and another article to perhaps add to the news section.

Michael Ashby / June 20, 2017

Thanks for sharing the article. Much appreciated.



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