Nova Scotia

New pardon rules thwart student's rehabilitation

A Nova Scotia man says the federal government's "tough on crime" law is making it impossible for him to restart his life.

Marijuana conviction at 19 will stay with man until he's 31

Chris Conrad said new rules on pardons make it impossible for him to move beyond his marijuana conviction. (CBC)

A Nova Scotia man says the federal government's "tough on crime" law is making it impossible for him to restart his life.

Chris Conrad was 19 when he was busted for selling marijuana. He was sentenced to six months of house arrest and a year of probation. It was his first and only offence.

"I just didn't know what I wanted to do with my life at the time. So I guess you could say I took the easy road — what I already knew how to do to make money," he said.

Now 25, he has done his time. He went to university and planned to apply for a pardon so that when he graduated, he could enter the workforce without a criminal record. Until March, offenders had to wait five years to apply.

Conservatives change the rules

But in March, the government's omnibus crime law changed the rules. Conrad and others like him now have to wait another five years before applying for a pardon.

Conrad said he has done everything he could to get his life back on course, and it's unfair to make him carry a criminal record.

"Five years is quite a long time. I'm not eligible to travel outside of Canada. When I'm looking for a job, if an employer sees someone with a criminal record … some employers might bypass that and look at other applications," he said.

Conrad, who comes from the village of Milton, near Liverpool, said adding punishment after he's served his time is not fair.

The government introduced plans to increase the waiting period for pardons in 2010, after it learned convicted sex offender Graham James had received a pardon.

At the time, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews explained the Conservative reasoning.

"It's not the state's business to be in the forgiveness business. We are concerned about rehabilitation," Toews said .

Not a deterrent, says expert

Experts on criminology question the government's position.

Christopher Murphy, a sociology professor at Dalhousie University, said it's not an approach that has been shown to work.

"There's no kind of evidentiary basis for extending these. They don't in any way contribute to deterring crime, and they strike me as further evidence that the government is concerned with punishment," he said.

A retired RCMP officer who knows Conrad agreed. He said Conrad is rehabilitated and should be pardoned so he can resume his life.

"He's doing very well, very well," Bob Brogan said. "To have that burden of a court conviction for this extra five years, I question, is it necessary?"

Conrad will be 31 before he can apply for a pardon and fully restart his life with a clean slate.