Pardon me a guide to the federal pardon program
CBC News Online | Jan. 24, 2004
Governments, monarchs, and rulers in many countries have long allowed some kind of reprieve from the criminal justice system for reasons of clemency or mercy.
In Canada, convicted persons are eligible for the Royal Prerogative of Mercy. But these pardons are discretionary and relatively rare (only 159 since 1980).
In 1970, Canada brought in the Criminal Records Act, which allowed for a more systemic granting of pardons for those who had demonstrated "good conduct."
The pardon application process was further streamlined in 1992 and the number of pardons granted and issued rose dramatically.
RCMP statistics show that 3.3 million Canadians have a criminal record. The vast majority of these people are eligible for a federal pardon once certain conditions are met. But fewer than 10 per cent of Canadians with records have applied for a pardon that would seal their criminal records (with some notable exceptions).
What is a pardon?
The National Parole Board says a pardon is simply "a recognition that you are of good conduct." The purpose of a pardon is to give people a kind of second chance, so that those convicted of a crime won't be tarred for the rest of their lives for crimes committed years earlier.
If a pardon is granted, information about that person's criminal record is taken out of the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) computer system, and information about the conviction(s) cannot be given out without the approval of the federal solicitor general.
The criminal record is effectively "sealed" once the pardon is granted.
Why apply for a pardon?
A criminal record is enough to prevent someone from being hired in a variety of jobs that require background criminal record checks. Many jobs in banking, health care, teaching, security and government require a "clean" criminal record. And it isn't just paid work. Volunteer positions frequently require a clean record check, too.
Even insurance companies have the right to ask if you have been convicted of a criminal offence "for which a pardon has not been received."
Many people who have been granted pardons say they have more peace of mind because a single indiscretion cannot come back to haunt them years later.
Who is eligible for a pardon?
Most people convicted of a crime are, or will be, eligible for a pardon. Anyone convicted of an offence under a federal act or regulation can apply. But there are some conditions and limitations.
For one thing, people wanting a pardon must have completed their sentences, including parole or statutory release, satisfied all their probation orders, and paid all fines, costs and compensation orders.
There's also a waiting period. For those convicted of summary conviction offences, they must wait three years. For those convicted of more serious indictable offences, the wait is five years.
There are limitations. For example, the granting of a pardon does not mean that all record of the conviction is wiped out. So if someone is convicted of a second offence, the prosecution can still present the court with evidence of the first conviction.
People convicted of sex offences are eligible for pardons. But for some sex offences, the conviction will remain on the CPIC computer system.
Another limitation applies to prohibitions on driving or owning firearms. Pardons do not cancel these orders.
Are there any 'automatic' pardons?
Yes. Anyone convicted of an offence after July 24, 1992, and given an absolute discharge will have their conviction removed from the police computer system one year after the court ruling. No application is necessary.
For those convicted after July 24, 1992, and given a conditional discharge, the conviction information is automatically removed after three years.
For those given absolute or conditional discharges before that 1992 cutoff date, they must write to the RCMP to have the conviction information purged. The link is at the right side.
People convicted of crimes solely in youth courts do not need to apply for a pardon. Their records are automatically destroyed. For those convicted in both adult and youth courts, a pardon application would be necessary.
How do you apply for a pardon?
The National Parole Board is the body that decides whether to grant pardons.
It has a pardon application guide on its website (the link is at the right).
There are a variety of documents that applicants need to send (a certified copy of one's criminal record from the RCMP, proof of conviction, a local police record check and the pardon application itself).
Depending on one's particular situation, further court documents or military records may be required.
There's also a $50 processing fee for the application.
Some private companies can also carry out the application process for you. But they often charge $400 or more.