Saturday August 23, 2014





Gilchrist: Accessible pardons serve society

Ingrained into us from a young age is the idea that criminals are dangerous individuals, ticking time bombs ready to harm whoever gets in their way to achieve their devious goals.

Open a newspaper any day and you can read about troubled people stabbing, shooting or beating someone, and leading police on chases in stolen vehicles.

But while many offenders are cretins with no hope of reform, others branded with a criminal record are simply people who made bad choices at some point.

Pardons offer folks like this a shot at a clean slate. Having served penance for their crime — be it through community service, probation or time in jail — these people are supposed to have already paid their debt to society.

Pardons are one step further that allow people close the door on past mistakes by sealing off their record to most (there are circumstances that will still allow law enforcement access, like when one is applying for a job with vulnerable people).

But fewer people are going to be applying now that the Conservatives plan to hike the cost of seeking a pardon to $631 from the current $150.

News this week shows the Parole Board of Canada expects the number of applicants seeking a pardon will drop by half — from nearly 28,000 a year to only 15,000.

With a more stringent screening brought in last year, the government says the evaluation process will take longer and require more fact-checking by the parole board to assess whether pardon applicants are deserving of having their past misdeeds wiped from the official record, thus the need for the increased fees.

The Conservatives defend the proposed hikes, saying it’s not up to taxpayers to have to subsidize the process; if people want to seal off their record, they have to pay for the luxury themselves.

While we should expect fiscal responsibility from our government, such a dramatic hike is unreasonable. We’re not talking about paying user fees for extra skating time or an art class, this is an opportunity for people trying to improve their lives without the dark cloud of a criminal record floating overhead.

Tax spending that benefits the greater good like health care, fixing roads — and pardons, which can help people become productive members of society — is a worthy use of our nation’s financial pool.

If a business quadrupled the cost of certain goods or services, consumers would go running in the opposite direction. Such a hike would be justifiably seen as unreasonable; people would have to desperately want the item or service in question in order to open their wallets for it. Or it would be available only to the rich.

By putting the cost of a pardon so out of reach for many, and the Parole Board figures show people will not be seeking pardons like they used to, government is dooming a lot of people with already limited opportunities.

Someone with a record may roam a slim line between drifting back into criminal life and staying on course.

A decent job is a powerful tool in setting people on the right path and keeping pardons fees attainable helps level the playing field for all – including those who need a second chance most.

tgilchrist@kamloopsnews.ca


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