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American vs. Canadian Pardon Processes – Comparison

The American media has almost absurd levels of influence. This is plainly seen in instances of entire countries switching their emergency telephone numbers to 911 because so many people kept dialling them (due of course to their exposure to American-made television and film). This particular phenomenon also appears in the legal system, with many foreign nationals requesting to be read their ‘Miranda rights’ upon arrest (when they don’t have them) or asking to see a warrant upon the police searching their homes/personal property (when one isn’t required). Because of this, it seems relevant to provide a comparison of the American and Canadian pardons processes, especially when the American version is commonly known.

In the US, it is the President who has both the power and the prerogative to grant pardons, which is a system a large percentage of people are either familiar with or have heard of. Under Article II, Section 2 of the US Constitution, the President is given the ‘power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment,’ with no additional restrictions. This means that the President may grant pardons to anyone, at any time, for no reason other than personal whim. The pardoned individual need not have been convicted or even formally charged with a crime. In practice, American pardons are often heavily politicized, with their conferral being dependent upon whether it is deemed politically prudent for the President at the time.

In Canada, however, the pardons process is largely codified and, in the overwhelming majority of cases, completely impersonal. An individual wishing to be pardoned must first have served the entirety of their sentence as well as paying all fines, restitution and compensation ordered, then wait three, five or ten years depending on the type and nature of their offence(s). After this, they must collect and correctly complete a series of time-sensitive forms and applications and submit them to the National Parole Board (NPB). Once all these requirements are met and the NPB processes the paperwork, the individual is bestowed with a pardon.

Clearly these systems are vastly different. The Canadian process is based on the rule of law, whereas the American one is largely arbitrary. It should be noted though that there are procedures in place to help the American system be more principled. The Office of the Pardon Attorney exists to assist the President in his exercise of executive clemency. Those wishing to be pardoned submit their application to the Pardon Attorney, who reviews the file and, in conjunction with the Attorney General, prepares a recommendation for the President as to whether or not this person should be granted clemency. However, this recommendation is exactly that: a recommendation. It is in no way legally binding, nor must the President defer to or consult it in any fashion when making his decision. Thus the actual receipt remains entirely arbitrary. It is interesting to note that should the Attorney General recommend that an applicant not be granted a pardon and the President make no action to the contrary within 30 days of receiving the submission, the application will be denied and the case closed (Title 28, Chapter 1, Part 1, Section 1.8, Code

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