OTTAWA – The Parole Board of Canada has the funding to deal with a long-standing backlog of thousands of old pardon applications for serious offences, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said Thursday.
Blaney told a House of Commons committee that the board is meeting its objectives and is on time in handling the application backlog, which dates back as far as 2012 when the Conservative government overhauled the pardons system.
“A little more than 5,000 are left and Mr. (Harvey) Cenaiko (the chairman of the parole board) and his team confirmed to me that they have the financial resources to keep dealing with the backlog,” Blaney said in response to a question from a New Democrat MP. “And they really are on objective and on time.”
That will be news to the roughly 5,800 applicants whose efforts to seal their old criminal records and move on with their lives have been in limbo for years.
The board said in March that it was on track to finally clear the backlog of old applications for less serious, summary convictions, but that it could not continue to devote the same resources to tackling the more serious cases.
At the time, it could not provide a timeline for addressing the ongoing backlog and would only say applications would be handled “as resources allow.” The board did not immediately respond to a request for an update Thursday.
Some professional pardon application services, which operate in a fashion similar to tax preparation services, are advising clients with old applications to give up, forfeit their original application fee and re-apply under the new $631 “record suspension” process.
The Conservative government overhauled the pardons system to make it more expensive and rigorous after The Canadian Press reported in 2010 that serial sex predator Graham James had been granted a pardon three years earlier.
Pardons, now known as record suspensions, are designed to seal a criminal record and allow offenders who have served their sentences and lived crime-free for years to reintegrate, get better jobs and travel abroad.
For many years the application fee was a modest $50, reflecting the societal good and powerful incentive a pardon provides to former convicts to keep from re-offending.
“Since 1970, more than 460,000 Canadians have received pardons and record suspensions. Ninety-six per cent of these are still in force, indicating that the vast majority of pardon/record suspension recipients remain crime-free in the community,” the Parole Board website says.
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