When the Liberals won the election in 2015, many people hoped that they would reverse the pardon system to pre-2012 rules. However, this does not appear to be what the Liberal government had in mind. The Liberal government embarked on consultations and is now drafting its own legislation. As a result, we are still waiting to find out if the government will take action on pardon fees.
What are the pardon fees?
There is no doubt that the pardon fees are unaffordable for many Canadians. The current fee to submit an application is $631. A person on welfare, unemployment, disability, part-time income or minimum wage will find it extremely difficult to save this amount, especially if they have dependents. These are the citizens who require the pardon the most. People in this type of situation are desperate to find work or improve their situation. However, a criminal record can hold a person back in many endeavors.
In fact, the Ontario government is currently studying an anti-poverty private member’s bill that seeks to ban any discrimination on the basis of a criminal record regardless of whether a pardon or Record Suspension has been received.
There is no doubt that some change is needed to the pardon fee. Not only that, but the government found significant support for changing the pardon fees during its consultation period. Eighty per cent of respondents to their survey said that the fee was a significant barrier for people wanting to move forward with their lives.
Ralph Goodale, Public Safety Minister, said that the government wants to make sure that the pardon fees and other aspects of the program are “fair, proportionate and productive.” From the feedback received so far, it’s clear that most people do not find the fee meets this standard.
However, this doesn’t mean that the government is thinking of doing away with the fee. If this was their goal it would have been simple just to introduce a bill that removes the fee for a service. Service fees are changed all the time. It’s more likely that the government is considering some type of updated fee structure.
What are the possibilities for a fee structure?
We do not know what the government is planning. Given the amount of time and energy they have invested in drafting legislation, it is likely that it will be somewhat more complex than what we have now.
Currently, the fee is the same for everyone. Regardless of whether a person stole a pack of gum or a car, they must pay the same fee to pardon their record. Some of the options the government may be considering, include:
Spent convictions: Some jurisdictions allow minor records to be “spent” after a certain amount of time. This is similar to what happens if you have an Absolute or Conditional Discharge. In those cases, your record is automatically removed. Generally, places that have spent convictions, which include the UK, Australia and some US states, will allow this for minor, non-violent offences. This could include possession of narcotics, theft and any summary convictions. This could also be considered for offences that are no longer illegal such as consensual relationships between members of the same sex (which the government has already announced it would remove), some aspects of Canada’s former prostitution laws, and possession of under 30 grams of marijuana (which will become legal later this year). An advantage of this is that less administration would be required to seal the record.
Two-tiered fees: A person with a serious (indictable) offence could pay more than a person with a minor (Summary) offence.
A lower fee: The fee could be lowered for all types of offences. This would put more burden on the taxpayer. Currently, the fee is adjusted to a level where the program is paid for by the applicants. As a result, a lower fee could face more opposition in Parliament.
No fee: The taxpayer would be entirely responsible for paying the fee. Although society benefits from pardons as they are a tool in rehabilitating offenders and reducing recidivism, it’s hard for some people to see the connection. As a result, this option would also face significant opposition.
Screening fee: People could pay a small fee to have their application screened. If they have submitted all of the information, they would then need to pay a larger fee to have the application reviewed.
Should you wait to see if the government removes the fee?
AllCleared does not recommend waiting to apply for a pardon for many reasons:
- The government is unlikely to unilaterally remove or substantially lower the fee due to opposition.
- The government could raise fees on your record in order to subsidize a lower fee on a more minor type of record.
- You could lose out on opportunity while you are waiting for fees to be lowered.
- The government has not introduced legislation yet. It takes a long time for a bill to be debated and passed, especially if there is opposition. The Conservatives passed the current pardon system into law and will have a lot to say on any changes that are proposed.
If you are eligible for a Record Suspension, the best thing you can do for your future is to start today. To find out how a Record Suspension can assist you, contact us today for a free consultation at 1-866-972-7366. AllCleared supports a free and accessible pardon system. Please sign our petition, which asks the government to remove the fee and reduce wait times to pre-2012 levels.
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