Numerous complaints have been expressed about the Conservative government’s proposal to increase the user fee for pardon applications. The proposed increase is viewed as dramatic and prohibitive, stemming “from a purely economic logic without regard for the needs of pardon applicants or the community.” As well, “it would discourage people with a criminal record from applying,” and “will only result in pardons becoming more inaccessible to a majority of those with records, especially women who will be unable to afford to apply.” “Criminals who could not afford to apply … would be shut out from employment and education opportunities.”
The $50 user fee for the processing of a pardon application was officially increased to $150 on December 29, 2010. Then, the Government of Canada announced its intent on February 2, 2011, to have pardon applicants assume the administrative costs of processing a pardon application, which would increase the current user fee to $631. The proposed increase is based on a cost-recovery approach. The Parole Board of Canada held an online consultation in February to seek feedback from Canadians on the increase. Of the 1,086 responses received, only 12 were supportive.
The most common reasons expressed in support of the increase:
1. A person who commits a crime should be responsible for the fees associated with processing their pardon; and
2. Pardons should not be subsidized by hardworking law-abiding citizens/taxpayers.
The most common reasons expressed in opposition:
1. It would pose a financial burden for applicants, with many unable to pay the increased fee;
2. It would make it difficult or impossible for people to apply for a pardon who need one to help them obtain employment or pursue their education; and
3. It amounted to further punishment to that already imposed by the court.
Even an Independent Advisory Panel that reviewed the complaints about the proposal said “it also feared the proposal fee hike would have a punitive effect on many applicants.” Their June report tabled in Parliament mid-August states that those who do not have the means to pay such an amount would be doubly penalized, and recommended the government maintain the $150 fee and instead give the Parole Board more resources.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews suggests that the fact a number of criminals currently use third party companies to prepare their applications shows some are willing to incur a greater expense in order to obtain a pardon. What should be apparent is the fact that people want to make sure the challenging and somewhat difficult process is done correctly. The current fee is $150; a fee increase of such significant proportions will surely prove prohibitive and detrimental.
Considering that well over 3 million Canadians have criminal records, with 1.5 million being eligible to apply for a pardon, and that the number of those eligible grows by about 60,000 per year, it is apparent that the societal impact is significant. Most of these records resulted from minor offences, many for a lack of better judgment that people are trying to rise above and put behind them. The majority of pardon recipients, over 95%, have not reoffended, proving the fact that people do put the past behind.
Without a pardon, people with a criminal record definitely have difficulty getting employment, finding accommodation, pursuing education, travelling – quite simply, living a normal life. The pardon process helps free offenders from the limitations of having a criminal record, shedding the associated stigma, and moving on with their lives.
Pardon Services Canada assists people who want to obtain a pardon in order to do just that, put the past behind and move on. A Client Specialist ensures that all the required forms are created and compiled to support the application. Pardon Services Canada’s pro-active approach ensures that each case is processed expeditiously and applicants are kept informed at each stage of the process.