Unpardonable policy: The Toronto Star
The Toronto Star picked up an editorial of mine that calls on the Conservative government to see reason on the crime bill, specifically on the pardons section. Of course I am not naà¯ve enough to think it might actually make a difference but I still think it is important to have our views expressed. To read the article online, just click the following link. Otherwise it is reprinted below:
You haven’t struggled to find work until you’ve struggled to find work with a criminal record tied to your back. Perhaps this is the reason Canada’s pardon program is such an astonishing success. And yet the Conservative government is happy to ignore this fact. But with less than 4 per cent of offenders granted a pardon ever committing another crime, common sense tells us there is not much room for improvement. Unfortunately, when it comes to criminal justice the Conservatives are unable to admit what they are actually trying to achieve. The pardon example is but one of many.
Since the pardon program was created, more than 400,000 people have been granted a pardon. A criminal record would have prevented them from finding decent employment, volunteering, travelling freely, etc. The vast majority of people granted a pardon do not reoffend because they are no longer involved in criminal activity. It really is that simple.
Despite all the evidence to the benefits of a pardon, the Conservative government is adamant. It is not in the business of forgiving criminals. But this misses the point of the program entirely. A pardon is about allowing people to find a decent job, which a vast body of criminological evidence shows is the best way to keep people away from a life of crime. Take that chance away and the path forward is predictable.
Still, there are some criminals who should never be granted a pardon. Even the most left-leaning of us would have to agree on that. Look at the case of Karla Homolka, who was recently eligible for a pardon. The problem is Homolka was not convicted of the crime she committed. Homolka was convicted of a much less serious crime as a result of her plea bargain, which ensured that Paul Bernardo would be in jail for life. Had that not been the case she would have received a lifetime sentence as well and would still be in jail where she belongs.
In that case, a pardon would be an impossible fantasy because contrary to how the Tories present this issue, a pardon for serious crimes is not that easy to obtain. And it’s important to note that since the Homolka story broke, changes to the pardon program have already been passed that would eliminate this kind of oversight from ever happening again. The Parole Board of Canada now has the power to refuse a pardon for any reason whatsoever.
Our pardon program deserves to be celebrated, not used as a tool to score political points. Unfortunately, reason is not being heard. Evidence is being ignored. And a Conservative majority means that a lot of people who might otherwise have turned things around by getting a pardon and a decent job will now be stuck sitting at home with nothing to do.
Something about that doesn’t fit with the goal. And despite all the rhetoric on victims and safety, our streets and communities deserve better. We should reconsider pardons in light of a stronger understanding of what exactly it is a pardon is supposed to accomplish. Because a decent job will keep more people from a life of crime than any hardline law-and-order agenda could ever hope to.
Michael Ashby is director of the National Pardon Centre.