Let’s move on processing Record Suspension applications and reap the social and economic benefits

Picture of Ted Hsu(see update with link to article in the Kingston Whig Standard at the bottom of this page)

Canadians wait their turn in line.

That’s what M., my constituent did, after applying for a record suspension for a 13 year old DUI conviction. She needs that record suspension to turn around her life with her young family and launch a career in physical and occupational therapy.

Then the government passed Bill C-10 in March 2012, and M. is being asked to pay over $400 more to join a new line that, it appears, may be processed ahead of the old one.

M. is far from being the only person caught in this situation who has written to me.

Governments should deal fairly with citizens. All citizens. Government services, passports, immigration, pensions, should – with rare exception – be provided on the principle of ‘first come, first served.’ This means we wait our turn in line, and we expect others to respect our place in line.

But some of our citizens are not being treated fairly if they happen to be applying for a record suspension from the Parole Board of Canada. This is an important line-up to be in. It’s not about getting your coffee and doughnut from Tim Horton’s. It’s about putting your life back together after you’ve done your punishment for a past crime and demonstrated that you’re ready to fully rejoin and contribute to society.

“Record suspension” is the new term for “pardon” which is the government’s way of acknowledging, after careful checking, that although someone may have broken our laws in the past they have demonstrated – through their willingness to live within our laws – that they are ready to be reintegrated into the community by, say, taking on a job.

A record suspension does not forgive them of their previous crime. It simply recognizes that persons who have served their sentence, paid their price to society, and then stayed out of trouble for a sufficient time, should not be prevented from getting on with meaningful lives. We want them reintegrated into full and meaningful employment if only because that is one of the best ways to assure that they won’t re-offend.

Beyond the basic matter of fairness and decency for all citizens is the issue of financial costs to society. A person who is prevented from working must be supported by taxpayers. If that person joins the workforce, he or she joins taxpayers, and becomes a contributor to Canada’s prosperity.

The Parole Board of Canada – which processes applications and makes decisions for record suspensions – operates at arms length from the government of Canada and the Minister of Public Safety. That prevents undue political pressure from being applied to the Board. Normally an MP would not try to influence the work of the Board.

But since the passage of the Omnibus Crime Bill (C-10), the Parole Board has indicated that it will process record suspension applications made after the enactment of Bill C-10 in accordance with Treasury Board rules – but has made no promises on how long it will take to process applications made prior to Bill C-10, to which different service standards apply.

In addition fees have increased dramatically (from $150 to $631) and with the new law, and the burden on Parole Board staff has increased substantially.

The current backlog of applications is estimated to be 22,500 – and it could be much higher. The public service is currently facing rounds of downsizing and employment uncertainty. The new record suspension procedure involves extensive research and review; this is an onerous and time-consuming process.

I call on the government of Canada to provide the resources to the Parole Board in order to clear the backlog in the old line-up for record suspension applications. It’s the fair thing to do, and there is an economic benefit too. In that pre-Bill C-10 queue, the Parole Board will discover people ready to be matched to jobs, lives to be restarted, workers ready to join the ranks of taxpayers and to become full contributors to society.

All across the country – as in Kingston and the Islands – people who have lived crime-free and socially productive lives are being held in suspended animation because they applied for a record suspension before the new law, and the dramatic increase in fees. The Parole Board of Canada cannot tell them when their applications will be processed, but they cannot get a job and get on with their lives without that record suspension.

This is an issue of fundamental fairness. Government should treat all of its citizens – even those with criminal records – on the basis of ‘first come, first served’ when government services are so central to a citizen’s right to meaningful participation. It is also an issue of lost economic opportunity. Let’s process these applications, and we’ll be putting people to work and allowing them to contribute fully to society.

 

Update: The Kingston Whig Standard picked up on the story and published an article which can be read here:

http://www.thewhig.com/2012/11/23/thousands-haunted-by-slowed-down-pardons-process

 

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