Criteria Bringing Canadian Justice into Disrepute

by Criminal Defence Blawg on July 6, 2012

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The following is a guest criminal law blog post regarding recent changes to Canada’s pardon program.

One of the least discussed measures resulting from the changes made to Canada’s pardon program is about not bringing the “administration of justice into disrepute.” In other words, anyone applying for a pardon who has committed crimes serious enough that the granting of a pardon could be an embarrassment to Canadian justice system would not be permitted to receive one. This is an incredibly complex measure to define and one that was debated extensively at the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.

The measure ensures that the Parole Board has the right at all times to refuse a pardon for any reason whatsoever. Possibly it is not constitutionally sound and applicants who have been refused a pardon still have the right to appeal in federal court under Rule 300. Refusing a pardon for something which could be argued as objective presents significant difficulties in the application process.

In 2010, the media learned that the notorious murderer and sex offender Karla Homolka would become eligible for a pardon and, under the “old rules,” there was nothing the Parole Board could have done to reject it. This is not because she did not commit serious crimes but rather because she received a plea bargain and was subsequently convicted of much lesser crimes than she committed. The plea bargain ensured that Paul Bernardo, her co-conspirator, would remain in jail for life. The lesser conviction meant she would one day be eligible for a pardon, an uncomfortable compromise.

Clearly if one of the most notorious offenders in Canadian history would be eligible for a pardon there was justification to make amendments to the pardon program and the criminal code. And the only way to ensure that all the bases would be covered was to grant the Parole Board the power to refuse a pardon for any reason whatsoever.

The problem with such a measure of course is its application. Where does the Parole Board draw the line and how does it categorize one offence as unpardonable while another is not. In extreme cases like Karla Homolka it is simple enough. For others it is obviously more difficult. At some point the Supreme Court may become involved and issue a ruling that helps guide the application of this measure going forward.

Although preventing Karla Homolka from receiving a pardon was something that every sensible Canadian agreed with, unfortunately Bill C23, Eliminating pardons for serious crimes act, went too far with other measures. It extended the eligibility waiting periods for all offences and it excluded certain offenders from ever receiving a pardon, regardless of the details of their case. Considering that Canada’s pardon program has a success rate over 96% it is hard to understand why some of those changes were necessary at all.

If you have a criminal record you are likely still eligible for a pardon, although it has now been renamed a record suspension under the same legislative changes. Contact a pardon specialist at the National Pardon Centre if you would like to find out more about Canadian pardon services. Consultations services are free of charge.

Criminal Defence Blawg

Criminal Defence Blawg

Criminal law blogger at CriminalDefenceBlawg
Criminal Defence Blawg is a criminal law blog, sharing legal expertise and intelligence from the UK, US, Australia and beyond. Contributions from those who share great legal information. Want to get published? Contact us today.
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