June 18, 2021
New Pardon Provisions Proposed
On June 10, 2021, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, the Honourable Bill Blair, introduced Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Criminal Records Act and make consequential amendments to other Acts. This legislation proposes to reduce waiting periods for pardons under the Criminal Records Act. If passed, offenders convicted of summary offences will have to wait three years, while those convicted of indictable offences will wait five years. The Government further states that this legislation would “streamline the decision-making process for less serious offences so that these cases can be handled more efficiently”, although it is unclear at this time the measures to be taken in support of this “streamlining”. Notably, individuals convicted of “serious offences” will not be eligible for these speedy timelines, including individuals convicted of: sexual offences against children, terrorism related offences where a term of imprisonment of 10 years or more has been imposed, and/or offences punished by an indeterminate period of imprisonment or life in prison.
In addition to these legislative amendments, the Government of Canada has noted its intention to make the pardon program more accessible through the following changes:
- Reduce the application fee from $657.77 to $50;
- Investing in the modernization of the parole program, including through the development of an online portal, as well as in community-based organizations that support individuals applying for pardons.
- Continue to investigate the possibility of “sequestering” less serious criminal records specifically for former offenders now living crime free. This effort will include consultation with provinces, territories, and municipalities, as well as other key criminal justice stakeholders.
This legislation was promoted as offering to “reduce barriers to pardons for individuals with criminal records who have served their sentences and are living law-abiding lives”. It was explained that greater access to pardons can in turn help to limit the collateral consequences of criminal records, allowing individuals previously convicted of criminal offences to “access housing, employment, volunteer opportunities, and education”. The hope is that by supporting the successful reintegration of formerly convicted persons into society, this will benefit all.
The potential impact of these amendments for migrants is significant. For those migrants who have been deported from Canada for criminality, greater access to pardons will support their return to Canada by eliminating inadmissibility, which may be noted in the applications for authorization to return to Canada. Similarly, migrants convicted of offences outside of Canada who have received pardons in the convicting country may note the changes to Canadian legislation in their applications for rehabilitation to demonstrate equivalency, as well as the stated approach of the Canadian government to facilitate reintegration of former offenders. In all, these are welcome measures that provide relief from the draconian changes in place for the past several years.