The term “pardon” is often used to mean forgiveness. In a social setting, if you said, “Pardon me,” you would be essentially saying, “Forgive me.” But the term “pardon” has a different meaning in the Canadian legal system – it is less about forgiveness and more about sealing the past.
The Basics of a Canadian Pardon
According to the Parole Board of Canada, a pardon allows people who were convicted of a crime to have their criminal record kept out of consideration after they have completed their sentence and become a law-abiding citizen for a certain number of years. In short, a pardon:
- Sets aside previous convictions under an Act of Parliament.
- Shows that your previous criminal convictions are no longer a reflection of your character.
- Demonstrates that you have been effectively rehabilitated.
- Is designed to eliminate many forms of discrimination.
In 2012, the Parole Board of Canada changed the term “pardon” to the phrase “record suspension.” The name change did not change the process or the end result, but it is a change that better describes the concept. With a record suspension, formerly a pardon, you send in an application under Section 4.1 of the Criminal Records Act. If your application is approved, your record is suspended, or no longer in consideration, in Canada.
The offenses don’t go away, but your record is simply moved to an agency within the Canadian Federal Government where it is not disclosed under the majority of background or criminal record checks. In a sense, having a pardon or Record Suspension means your old criminal record is archived if it is deemed by the government that you have left that portion of your life behind you. It is possible that your suspended record could be accessed under special circumstances or if you commit additional criminal acts.
How Pardons Work
The Clemency and Record Suspension Division of the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) is the agency that reviews applications and ultimately approves record suspensions. A pardon or Record Suspension is 1where an applicant with a previous criminal conviction is able to seal his record after completing his sentence and maintaining a law-abiding standing for a certain length of time.
While Section 4.1 explains the procedure for a pardon, most pardons, or record suspensions, are done through the Criminal Code of Canada and the Controlled Drugs and Substance Act according to the Canadian Legal Resource Centre. When the record suspension application is received and approved by the governing agency, your criminal record included under the pardon is pulled into an archive where it is all but sealed.
It is important to note that the record suspension is not a forgiveness of criminal acts or an expunging of your record. Your record does not disappear or get wiped clean – it simply moves out of Canadian Police Information Centre’s main record keeping system and into isolated storage where it will not be part of most criminal background checks.
The Benefits of a Pardon
The record suspension program in Canada has been very successful. According to the Parole Board of Canada, less than 4 percent of granted suspensions have been revoked due to new offenses. In short, 96 percent of the individuals who receive a pardon never have additional criminal convictions.
Having a pardon means your criminal record is effectively sealed. Once pardoned, a criminal record will no longer prevent citizenship or contracted work with the government. It may prevent possible employers from obtaining your record in a background check, freeing you from the discrimination that can come with a criminal record.
To receive a Pardon or Record Suspension not only lifts a huge weight off your shoulders, it provides you with new opportunities. You won’t have to worry about background checks, allowing you to apply to jobs that you might have passed on in the past. Once you have a Pardon or Record Suspension you would be eligible to be bondable and even accept a promotion that your criminal record might have held you back as well.
Another opportunity is to travel – without a Pardon it’s unlikely you could cross the border. There are also many other considerations and rewards, from educational opportunities, volunteering in your community, and child custody, to being approved for property rentals/mortgages and adoption.
It is important to realize, however, that a record suspension can remove many obstacles in Canada but does not remove all media references to previous criminal acts. Previous background checks obtained prior to the pardon may still contain your criminal offenses. Additionally, a pardon or record suspension is granted and recognized in Canada. It’s important to note that a pardon may not be recognized in other countries.
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