Harper Promises Tougher Criminal Pardons Legislation in Election Bid

At last report, Bill C-23B, the proposed law which was set to rename pardons into record suspensions and impose tougher rules on applying for them and on who is eligible to get them, had passed second reading in the House of Commons and was waiting to be considered by a parliamentary committee. Since that time, the political scene in Canada has been shaken up with an early election call. The election is set for 2 May and the different parties are already busy with their campaigns.

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper is hoping for re-election so that he can continue passing legislation in the same vein as that which his government has succeeded in adopting so far. According to an article published in the Toronto Star yesterday, the party plans to formally launch its platform today, but in the past two weeks, Harper has already spoken publicly about the changes his party plans to make if re-elected, which will be laid out in more detail today. Among his promises is that if he is re-elected, all outstanding crime-related bills that have not yet been passed, including Bill C-23B, will be combined into one blanket bill and will be passed within 100 days of re-election.

The election campaign is still young and we cannot be certain of its outcome. The main forerunners are Harper and his Liberal opponent, Michael Ignatieff, who does not agree with all of the conservatives’ measures regarding criminal justice. It could be a tight race, and Canadians need to be prepared for any outcome. A poll released two weeks ago suggests that 43% of Canadians support the Conservative party; if this still holds true come the day of the election, Harper could win a majority government. Should this happen, the Conservatives will take over most of the seats of the House of Commons, and the passage of criminal pardons reform will be a foregone conclusion. All the more reason to apply for a pardon now, before it becomes much harder to get.

Why Change Pardons to Record Suspensions?

As we mentioned in the previous post, we will now further discuss some specifics about Bill C-23. The public has really jumped on this bill, and while opinions are divided, most are for the bill passing and have been contacting their local MPs about it. As a result, the MPs have been arguing over the bill for the last few months. One debate has been about the first thing that Bill C-23 will change on the Criminal Records Act: substituting the term “pardon” for “record suspension.”

This change appears to be mostly political. The Conservatives promised to get tougher on crime in 2006, and now, 4 years later, they are finally delivering on their promise. Changing “pardons” to “record suspensions” sounds tougher, but it will not actually make much of a difference to criminals or to victims, except to give victims the satisfaction that the new term does not in any way connote forgiveness.

While this new legislation will make many changes to the pardon process, modifying what the process is called will not make a significant difference.

  • People with record suspensions will still be able to answer “no” to the question employers ask about criminal records.
  • Record suspensions will still be invisible and sealed off from the public
  • People who are granted a record suspension will find it easier to apply for a job and rent a home.

 The only difference between calling a pardon a record suspension is that “pardon” sounds less harsh, and many rehabilitated criminals and advocate groups have argued that using the term record suspension will add to the stigma of having a criminal record.