by Samantha McAleese, PhD Student, Sociology, Carleton University
My name is Samantha McAleese. I spent five years working on the front lines helping former prisoners trying to reintegrate as they struggled to find jobs and housing, in part because they had criminal records. Pardons are key to giving these people a chance.
This is not the announcement I was hoping for from the Parole Board of Canada.
This is not the news story I want to ‘Share’ or ‘Tweet’.
This is not the blog post I wanted to write today.
I would much rather wake up to a headline that reads: ‘Pardon backlog cleared – Thousands of people finally able to move on with their lives’.
This is far from the news story we see today, meaning that thousands of individuals continue to be ignored by the Parole Board and the Government of Canada.
I can sit here and plug a bunch of academic research in an effort to convince you of the benefit of receiving a pardon, of the negative impact a criminal record has on securing meaningful employment, and of the endless difficulty associated with the stigma of being an ‘ex-offender’.
But I won’t do that today.
Today, I will tell you about the almost 6,000 individuals who have been waiting upwards of four years to have their pardon applications processed. These are people who have served their sentences, but who continue to endure punishment, criminalization, and discrimination due to administrative delays.
This is a call-for-action. I am asking those who are stuck in the pardon backlog to share their stories and experiences, and I am asking everyone to demand action from the Parole Board of Canada and the Minster of Public Safety.
I have drafted a letter to send to Minister Steven Blaney and the Liberal and NDP public safety critics (see text below). Please feel free to send the letter as-is, to make additions based on your own experiences, or to draft your own letter.
If you would like your story shared, but prefer to remain anonymous, please feel free to contact me via e-mail -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Too many people have experienced unnecessary hardship due to the pardon backlog, and all of the changes made to Canada’s pardon system. Let’s act in solidarity and demand action from the government that more accurately reflects principles of justice and public safety.
March 16, 2015
Honourable Steven Blaney
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6
Dear Minister Blaney,
I am writing to you to express my concern about the backlog of pardon applications at the Parole Board of Canada. It is my opinion that the delay in processing almost 6,000 pardons completely disregards the mandate of the Parole Board of Canada and brings the administration of justice into disrepute.
In October 2014, the Parole Board of Canada posted an announcement on their website directed towards individuals who are currently stuck in the pardon application backlog. The update stated that there were still more than 10,000 files in the four-year backlog, and a decision was made to focus solely on processing applications for summary offences. This means that almost 7,000 files involving indictable offences continued to wait in limbo until a decision was made by your Ministry about funding and administrative resources.
On March 16, 2015, a spokeswoman from the Parole Board of Canada told the Canadian Press that ‘the board will not be able to dedicate the same level of resources to the backlog in 2015-16’. Some applicants have reported that their applications are ‘effectively dead’. What this means, Mr. Blaney, is that approximately 5,800 applicants are being denied human rights protections due to administrative inefficiencies.
While I understand that the Parole Board of Canada has offered people the option to re-apply under the new record suspension program, it is important to realize that many individuals in the pardon backlog do not have the financial means to pay the $631 user fee attached to this new application.
The mission statement of the Parole Board of Canada indicates that the protection of society is facilitated by “the timely reintegration of offenders as law-abiding citizens” and that doing so contributes to “a just, peaceful and safe society.”
I am writing to you as an elected Member of Parliament and the Minister of Public Safety because I want the Parole Board to be held accountable to their mandate and acknowledge the hard work and patience of individuals who have long since paid their debt to society. Receiving a pardon is a very important step in the long journey of reintegration, and it is a shame that this process is being unnecessarily delayed for thousands of Canadians.
Your willingness to take action will demonstrate your dedication to maintaining public safety. The faster all of the pardon applications are processed, the faster all individual applicants can move forward in their lives and contribute to their communities through employment and volunteer work, and also by going to school for education and vocational training.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Hon. Arnold Wayne Easter - Liberal Party, Public Safety Critic - House of Commons Ottawa, ON, K1A 0A6
Randall Garrison - New Democratic Party, Public Safety Critic - House of Commons Ottawa, ON, K1A 0A6