Conservatives table tougher rules on pardons

OTTAWA—Criminals convicted of sexually abusing children or of three serious offences would be permanently ineligible for pardons under new reforms proposed today by the Conservative government.

The bill would also drop the word “pardon” and replace it with “record suspension,” to better reflect the effect of a pardon, and society’s view of the long-lasting harm to victims.

“The current system of pardons implies that what the person did is somehow okay, or is forgiven, or that the harm done has somehow disappeared,” said Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, in remarks to a news conference this morning.

Toews was flanked by victims, including former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy at the new conference.

It was the pardon of Kennedy’s abuser, his former hockey coach Graham James, three years ago — revealed recently by Canadian Press — that prompted the proposed changes.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper reacted to the revelations by ordering the law toughened.  Kennedy said he was “really honoured” by “the thought” that was put into the reforms.

“We’re here as not victims but as part of the solution to something that needed to be changed.”

He said the criminal justice system has to recognize the “damage” done to youth who are abused, and the need for offenders “to change” not to simply get another job. The current system is “just about waiting out your time,” said Kennedy.

Kennedy referred directly to James, noting he is now in Spain working with youth, and if “somebody” were serious about change, he would never put himself back in such a position.  “It’s about moving forward,” said Kennedy.

The reforms would also force offenders to wait longer before being able to apply for a pardon- extending the time to five years for summary offences, and to 10 years for more serious “indictable” offences.  That would be up from the current waiting periods of three to five years depending on the severity of the offence.

The onus would now be put on serious offenders to show that a pardon or record suspension would provide a “measurable benefit” to themselves “and sustain their rehabilitation as a law-abiding citizen,” according to background documents.

The parole board would be given greater latitude to refuse pardons, and could consider the nature, gravity and duration of the offence, the circumstances surrounding the commission of the offence, and information relating to the offender’s “criminal history.”

The parole board would also have to submit more regular statistics on the number of pardons granted.

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