bc-101215-prison-bars

Assault and breaking and entering offences were also high on the list of convictions for which pardons were granted.

People convicted of drunk driving received about 13 per cent of all pardons granted by the Parole Board of Canada over the past decade, according to a CBC News analysis of the administrative tribunal's data.

Although assault and breaking and entering offences were also high on the list of convictions for which pardons were granted, non-violent offences such as drug convictions, theft and mischief were among those most likely to earn pardons during the fiscal years 2000-2010.

Critics say these statistics demonstrate that contrary to what the Harper government would have people believe, most of those receiving pardons are non-violent offenders, not high-profile criminals such as former hockey coach Graham James, who was pardoned for his sex crimes and now faces further charges, and Karla Homolka, who helped spark the debate about pardons when it was suggested that she might apply for one.

"If a pardon is going to assist people who are committed to dealing with their drinking problem, to get assessed, get into treatment and stay clear of impaired driving, we would be in favour of it," says Robert Solomon, director of legal policy for MADD Canada, a group that lobbies for policies that combat drunk driving.

Solomon says a pardon indicates a person is ready to continue along his path to sobriety, which in the end is good for society.

"MADD Canada doesn't want to be in the victim business forever."

Top 10 offences that earned pardons, 2000-2010

(See the full list )

chart

Number of pardons granted by type of offence, fiscal years 2000-2010. ((Parole Board of Canada))

Every year, the parole board receives thousands of requests for pardons. Individuals can't apply for one until they have served their sentences or paid their fines, and lived crime-free for three, five or 10 years, depending on the severity of the offence. They must also pay an administrative fee of $150.

The parole board wants to boost that fee to $631, but not before holding "online consultations," which begin Thursday and last until the end of the month.

People will be able to log on to the  board's website to share their opinions. The board will collect them and pass them on to the federal government, which will make the final decision.

Though the consultations have yet to begin, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has already made it clear he supports the higher fee, arguing it's only fair to make people pay the full cost to have their pardon request processed.

'We have entered into a consultation process, but the minister has made it fairly clear in his public announcements on this that it's a fait accompli unless the world turns upside down.' —Ed McIsaac, John Howard Society

Charging extra money for pardons is a bad idea, argues Ed McIsaac, acting executive director of the John Howard Society and previously a longtime senior administrator with the Office of the Correctional Investigator, an ombudsman for prisoners.

"It [creates] an unreasonable hurdle. We have pardons to assist in the rehabilitation and the reintegration of ex-offenders. Anything that we do to make that a more difficult road I think is self-defeating," he says.

Caroline Douglas, the parole board's director of communications, anticipates hearing this and other arguments against the fee hike when people begin sharing their views. She says the board arrived at the proposed $631 after crunching a lot of numbers.

"We had to look at how much does it cost to screen an application. How much does it cost to make inquiries with the police, the RCMP, the courts, in the course of our investigation of a person who's applying for a pardon. We had to take a look at how much it cost to make decisions by board members. How much does it cost to notify individuals and organizations once the board has made a decision on a file."

Fewer applications, more paper work

A change in the law is the key reason the parole board's workload is increasing. On June 29, the government amended the Criminal Records Act to, among other things, make it harder to obtain a pardon, and give the board the ability to "consider additional factors in the decision-making process for pardons." In short, the board now receives fewer applications, but has increased its workload by taking a longer time with each application.

Under the old legislation, about 37,000 people a year applied for a pardon, with three-quarters successful.

Under the new law, the board will receive 25,000 applications annually, with an acceptance rate for processing the applications of 60 per cent.

"Every pardon application has to be looked at in terms of good conduct," says Douglas. "These were changes that were introduced last year. And they had to be taken into consideration in our costing exercise. And as a result, the $631 is what is being proposed."

Despite the fact that the government has already tipped its hand, Douglas insists the consultation process is a genuine effort to solicit feedback and pass those views to the government.

McIsaac says he'll take part, but he has his doubts.

"We have entered into a consultation process, but the minister has made it fairly clear in his public announcements on this that it's a fait accompli unless the world turns upside down. I'm not sure exactly what it is we are consulting on."

If you have any views about pardons or the parole board's consultation, please feel free to share them with me at david_mckie@cbc.ca