Charlene Pitre seeks pardon, loses money to private company

A Saint John woman who stole a lipstick nearly 40 years ago, is losing hope of getting a pardon, after giving her money to a private company that she mistook for the National Parole Board.

Saint John woman paid a private firm $900 to help obtain a pardon and then the company demanded an extra $600

Charlene Pitre says she cannot afford to pay more money to get a pardon after losing a money to private company. (CBC)

A Saint John woman, who stole a lipstick nearly 40 years ago, is losing hope of getting a pardon, after giving her money to a private company that she mistook for the National Parole Board.

Charlene Pitre said she thought she was dealing with a federal agency when she paid $901.64 to Federal Pardon Waiver Services of Toronto to complete an application.

She realized her mistake when the company told her she would have to pay a separate fee of $631 to the National Parole Board. 

When Pitre did speak directly to the parole board, she was told she could have made the application on her own.

Pitre said she's stuck. She can't afford to move forward and she can't get a refund.  

"They refused," she said.

"They said there is no refund. And I said, 'What are you keeping my money for?' He said, 'For the work I did.'  And I said, 'For what work? Tell me what you did.'  And they said, 'Well, we have lots of paperwork here.'"

On its official website, the National Parole Board instructs individuals that they do not need a lawyer or a representative to apply for a record suspension, formerly known as a pardon. 

If granted, it allows a law-abiding citizen to have his or her convictions set aside and removed from the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC). They may not be disclosed without permission from the federal minister of Public Safety. 

The board makes it clear that it acts alone and no third party can guarantee an outcome or faster results. 

Company guarantees its work

Steve Brickman, the manager at Federal Pardon Waiver Services, said his business does provide a service that takes the average person about three attempts to get right. 

"There are things that we do, with the courts and the police that take months and people don't have the wherewithal to continue," said Brickman.

He says Canadians can also do their own taxes but they often hire an accountant. 

"If you want it done right the first time," said Brickman.

"We guarantee our work."

Meanwhile, the National Pardon Centre identifies itself as a Canadian non-profit organization clearing criminal records since 2002.

However, it does provide a menu of fees to facilitate paperwork for people seeking pardons.

It also makes clear those payments do not include the parole board fee.

Michael Ashby, a spokesperson, says the industry needs regulation. Ashby said the service is similar to the immigration process.

"A lot of people pay an immigration consultant to bring their family over," Ashby said.

"At some point, immigration had to have some regulation body to oversee all the people offering services."

John Howard Society provides free help

The John Howard Society says it has individuals in most of its offices across the country, who can provide free assistance to those who want to apply for a pardon.

"And sometimes we're able to find them the funding to assist them to pay for this process," says Susan O'Neill, manager of the John Howard Society in Saint John. "But that's rare, too. Non-profits are struggling."

In March of 2012, the fee for processing a pardon application increased from to $631 from $150.

"The fee increase proposal was set forth because the [Parole Board of Canada] was intent on recovering both direct and indirect costs associated with the processing of pardon applications," stated the board.

"They wanted to see users assume the administrative costs of processing a pardon application, and respond to workload increases and additional operational costs required to process pardons.

"Without a further increase to the fee, the PBC felt that the demand will continue to exceed their capacity to respond to requests for timely pardon services. This will deeply affect the PBC's ability to meet its legislated mandate and to contribute to public safety."

O'Neill says the current cost is insurmountable for many.

"Somebody who is experiencing poverty and lack of employment — and a lot of times this is why they're going to get that pardon, is to have an easier means or path toward employment," she said.

"It's difficult for them to get $20 let alone $600."

About the Author

Rachel Cave

Rachel Cave is a CBC reporter based in Saint John, New Brunswick.