Respondents to a federal government consultation on criminal record suspensions were overwhelmingly in favour of giving automatic pardons for some crimes, and wiping the records clean for those whose crimes were minor or no longer illegal.
The responses were contained in two reports released Tuesday by Public Safety Canada, as the department considers making changes to the system for granting criminal record suspensions, formerly known as pardons.
According to a report prepared by EKOS Research, 83 per cent of people who filled out an online survey conducted by the department said they favoured automatic record suspensions for some crimes, with property theft (21 per cent), drug crimes (21 per cent), non-violent crimes (20 per cent) and summary offences (18 per cent) being the crimes most frequently cited.
Eighty-six per cent of respondents said they favoured complete criminal record expungements for people found guilty of behaviour no longer considered criminal, such as sodomy, or when the crimes were "particularly minor," such as marijuana possession.
A record suspension allows people who have completed their sentences to have their criminal record set aside. It makes it easier for ex-convicts to apply for work, volunteer in the community or rent an apartment.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has said he wants to make changes to the Criminal Records Act, which the previous government changed in 2010. The Conservatives doubled how long someone must wait before they can apply for a record suspension, and made the application process more difficult and expensive.
"Most respondents (83 per cent) support an automatic record suspension process for some crimes if the convicted person has completed their sentence, paid any fines due, and has remained crime-free for a prescribed period," reads a summary of the findings.
The EKOS consultation heard from 1,166 self-reporting participants between Nov. 7 and Dec. 16 last year and was open to anyone who wanted to take part in the 15-minute online questionnaire. The results were not weighted to accurately represent the population as a whole. Twenty-nine per cent of respondents were workers in the justice system and may therefore have a greater interest in or knowledge of the issue, while 4 per cent said they represented victims and 12 per cent represented offenders.
Wiping records clean
The findings are of interest to Sen. Kim Pate, who is drafting legislation to bring in automatic pardons and hopes Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale will sponsor her bill.
"If people have not come to the attention of police in the period, you know, following the end of their sentences, it should be automatic in my view," she told CBC News.
"In fact, the central component of it is that we would see an automatic process that would cut the [government] bureaucracy but also cut costs so that people right now who are not applying for pardons because of the prohibitive costs would potentially be eligible for pardons."
Three-quarters of those consulted said offenders shouldn't have to wait so long to be eligible to apply for a record suspension. They favoured returning to how things were before 2010, when the waiting periods were three and five years, respectively, for summary and indictable offenses.
Costs a barrier
In another online consultation of 1,607 people conducted May 9 to June 10, 2016, the Parole Board of Canada asked stakeholders and members of the public to comment on application fees and to answer a variety of open-ended, general questions about pardons.
Ninety per cent of respondents reported the $631 application fee for a record suspension is a "significant barrier." Before the 2010 changes, it cost $50 to submit an application for a pardon.
The consultations also found that people who participated care about semantics. While more than half of respondents preferred the term "pardon" because it implied a true separation from the offender's past, not all agreed.
"Victim considerations were raised, as the term 'pardon' implies forgiveness, which many feel should not be up to the government, but rather, for the victims of crime to give," reads a summary of the field work.