Saturday September 30, 2017

'I have this black cloud following me': Petitioning for easier pardons

Vic Savino, who served time at Headingley Correctional Institution in Manitoba, said he is moving himself "in a more positive direction." He keeps the photo on the left to remind himself "where I've been and where I could wind up at any moment if I make one mistake."

Vic Savino, who served time at Headingley Correctional Institution in Manitoba, said he is moving himself "in a more positive direction." He keeps the photo on the left to remind himself "where I've been and where I could wind up at any moment if I make one mistake." (Left: supplied; Right: Kaj Hasselriis / CBC)

Listen 11:50

By CBC Radio

A former drug dealer is petitioning Parliament to change the rules for pardons, and he's getting some high-profile help.

Vic Savino wants the Liberal government to make it easier for convicted criminals like himself to get a clean slate. "I just have this black cloud that follows me around," Savino told Now or Never host Ify Chiwetelu.

Joseph Darcel and Justin Trudeau

Joseph Darcel, a member of the Prime Minister's Youth Council, helped Vic Savino push his online petition. (PMO handout)

Savino teamed up with Joseph Darcel, a member of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Youth Council, to circulate an online petition. It has received 1150 signatures from across Canada. Savino's Liberal Member of Parliament, Dan Vandal, plans to present the petition in the House of Commons this week.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale had previously indicated his support for changes to the way pardons are handed out.

"It's not just Vic who's impacted by laws like this," said Darcel. "It's his family, his wife, his daughter. You can see that there is some injustice that this engenders."

Savino and Darcel want the rules for getting a pardon changed back to the way they were before Stephen Harper's Conservative government modified them as part of its tough-on-crime omnibus Bill C-10 in 2012.

Previously, convicted criminals could apply for a pardon after three to five years of serving their sentence, at a cost of $150. Now, people like Savino have to wait five to ten years before applying, and it costs $631. As well, Harper changed the term 'pardon' to 'record suspension'.

Vic Savino and Ify Chiwetelu

Now or Never host Ify Chiwetelu interviewed Vic Savino at a Winnipeg event called Meet Me at the Bell Tower. (Isaac Wurmann, CBC)

A record suspension doesn't erase a criminal record, but it remains hidden from public view unless a pardoned criminal re-offends.

Savino feels a pardon would help him get a better job. Without it, he said, "it just closes a lot of doors." Since being in jail, he earned a diploma with honours in business administration from Winnipeg's Red River College and started a family. 

"I can understand some of the checks," Savino said. "But I got turned down at a call centre position. Seriously? To talk on the phone? How is anyone supposed to change their life with that in place? It just doesn't make sense."

While searching for a job in his field, Savino runs a hot dog cart with a friend. "It can be very depressing on some days if you think about it too much," he said. "You just gotta push through it and not think about it."