If you make an offender like Graham James the poster child of Canada’s pardon system, you’re bound to convince people it needs to be tougher. But people with old criminal records desperate to get on with their lives are being tarred by that brush.
An upcoming forum in Ottawa to look into changes to federal pardon applications is having a tough time finding testimonials – people who perhaps made a mistake in their past already live with the stigma without going public about it.
James, the former junior hockey coach convicted of sex offences against young players, is typically mentioned when the subject arises. His ability to get a pardon some years ago – before pleading guilty to more charges – was at the heart of the Conservatives’ move to make the process more difficult.
Not surprisingly, some who spoke to forum organizers tell of a much different experience. Many of us will have known people in similar circumstances: maybe got caught with a joint during their teen years or pulled a break and enter.
By no means should people convicted of breaking the law be let go without facing consequences. But such people are not anomalies – the same article from The Canadian Press detailing this forum says an estimated 2.4 million Canadians have a criminal record.
In addition to quadrupling the fee to apply for a pardon, changes by the Conservatives include a doubling of the crime-free period required.
Note too, the pardon doesn’t erase the record, it just seals it – barring further offences – to make work and other activities more attainable.
It’s worth asking who is more likely to reoffend: the person forced to live under a shadow and denied job opportunities or the person granted a shot at a livelihood?
What’s more, is the criminal justice system about rehabilitation, or just locked doors? True, some are less likely to mend their ways. But seriously, is turning the pardon application process into a cliff wall really going to catch the bad apples?