June 10, 2021 – Ottawa, Ontario
The Government of Canada is committed to addressing systemic inequities in the criminal justice system, specifically for Indigenous Peoples, Black Canadians, and other groups disproportionately affected by having a criminal record.
Today, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, the Honourable Bill Blair, introduced legislation, Bill C-31 An Act to Amend the Criminal Records Act and make consequential amendments to other acts, which proposes to reduce barriers to pardons for individuals with criminal records who have served their sentences and are living law-abiding lives. A pardon helps remove the stigma of a criminal record so people can access housing, employment, volunteer opportunities, and education, which are key to safe and successful reintegration as productive members of society. This improves public safety through reduced re-offending and victimization.
To help ensure that the pardons program works fairly and effectively, the legislation proposes to amend the Criminal Records Act to reduce wait periods for obtaining a pardon to three years for summary offences and five years for indictable offences. It would also streamline the decision-making process for less serious offences, so these applications can be dealt with more quickly and simply. In keeping with the aim of protecting public safety, some particularly serious offences would be ineligible. These ineligibilities would include convictions for sexual offences against a child; terrorism offences for which a sentence of 10 years or more has been imposed; and offences for which a life or indeterminate sentence has been imposed. The legislation also proposes that late payment of a fine or any other monetary penalty that was included in the sentence, does not restart the wait period.
In addition to these legislative amendments, the Government also intends to:
- Significantly reduce the application fee to an amount as low as $50 to make pardons more affordable, because the current cost of applying for a pardon ($657.77) is a financial barrier for many.
- Invest in program modernizations for the Parole Board of Canada (PBC), including developing a new online portal to make the application process simpler and quicker.
- Provide $22.2 million over 5 years for community based organizations to offer support services to help people complete pardon applications, and increase awareness of these support services, as well as of the PBC’s role as the federal agency responsible for the administration of the pardons program and its information resources for applicants. This will help ensure people have access to the right information about the pardons process and reduce reliance on third-party, for-profit companies that provide misleading information and charge high fees.
In an effort to further remove barriers to pardons, the Government will explore the automated sequestering of some criminal records for less serious offences for those living crime-free, in consultation with provinces, territories and municipalities, as well as other key criminal justice stakeholders. In other countries, including Australia and the United Kingdom, similar systems set aside criminal records for less serious offences after specific periods of time for those living crime-free, removing the need to apply for a pardon. This review will explore how such a system could be implemented in Canada.
The PBC, an independent administrative tribunal responsible for the timely, gradual, and safe reintegration of offenders into society and the sustained rehabilitation of individuals through pardons, recognizes the importance of diversity in carrying out its important public safety mandate. As part of the PBC’s commitment to bias-free and evidence-based decision-making, Board members consider systemic and background factors that have contributed to bringing an offender into the criminal justice system. The Corrections and Conditional Release Act, also requires that Board members be sufficiently diverse in their backgrounds to allow them to represent community values and views in their decision-making. As such, the PBC is, in effect, a “community board”, which represents Canada’s rich diversity of people and communities, with decision-makers that are reflective of the Canadians they serve.