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Why Allow Pardons?

Every once in awhile I get an angry email from someone asking me why I would want to get a pardon for a criminal. Or they ask why allows pardons at all? These emails usually go on to rant against criminals – scurge of the earth type stuff – without any understanding of human behaviour or the criminal justice system.

Well, so be it. People are passionate and ill informed. And at the time of writing Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is pushing a tough on crime agenda even though no tough on crime agenda has ever worked. The research points overwhelmingly to alternative measures.

The fact is that on television you see the worst of the worst. They don’t show the average person going to court for a DUI who feels really bad about it. That is just the nature of TV. But in reality the court system is clogged with the dullest of the dull. Average people arrested for average boring things. The problem is that boring criminal records can screw up a life just like the other ones. And that doesn’t seem fair.

A lot of these people are just like you or me. They are just everyday people who made a mistake and got caught. And if we saddled everyone who ever made a mistake with a criminal record we would quickly be living in a society with nothing but criminals.

So it’s because of the average person that I honestly believe in the program that grants Canadian pardons to average people like you and me. People make mistakes, particularly when they are young. And when you label someone a criminal and don’t offer a chance to change then chances are that person will remain a criminal.

And for the unconvinced who still worry about the dramatic stuff you see on TV, because let’s face it, that happens every once in a while too, I say not to worry. Anyone convicted of something worth making a TV movie about is never getting a pardon. They will be in jail or at least on probation forever and someone on probation has not completed their sentence. And without a completed sentence you can never get a pardon.

It’s quite amazing actually because this system seems to work AND make sense. So don’t ask why we allow pardons Canada? Ask why most places in the world do not?

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