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Legal Requirements for Applying for a Pardon

Article by Ned Lecic

In Canada a person who has a criminal conviction can eventually apply to have their conviction pardoned by the Parole Board of Canada under the authority of the Criminal Records Act. In this particular context, a “pardon” means that, while the conviction is not erased, it is hidden from the public record. Specifically, it will not turn up during a criminal record check, meaning that employers and other individuals will not, in most cases, be able to find out about the pardoned person’s criminal past. In contrast to an American presidential pardon, where the decision to grant of a pardon for a federal crime depends solely on the will of the President, a Canadian pardon is given automatically if the applicant meets the criteria prescribed by law and follows the proper application procedure, which is what we are going to discuss below.

Before a convicted person can ask to be pardoned, they need to demonstrate that they have been rehabilitated. It is therefore logical that they cannot apply for a pardon until the completion of their sentence, including serving time in prison, on parole or on probation, and paying all outstanding fines. After that, a period of time must be spent living an honest life in the community. The length of the waiting period depends on the seriousness of the crime being pardoned. The Criminal Code divides convictions of offences into summary offences (petty crimes) and indictable offences (felonies or serious crimes). Before applying for a pardon, a person convicted of a summary offence has to wait three years after the completion of their sentence, whereas for an indictable offence, it is five years. Moreover, legislation was recently passed with the intent to make it more difficult for serious offenders to get pardons: anyone who has committed a personal injury offence as defined by Section 752 of the Criminal Code (manslaughter being an example of such an offence) or an indictable sexual offence must now wait for ten years. The one crime that will not be pardoned is murder.

Applications are made by post to the Parole Board’s Clemency and Pardons Division. Successful processing of an application for a pardon depends entirely on providing a set of required documents, which have to be obtained from various official sources and the exact list of which depends on the nature of the applicant’s crime or other specific factors. For instance, an application form, a fee and a copy of one’s criminal record from the RCMP are among the standard items, while those who serve or have served in the Canadian Forces must also provide a copy of their military conduct sheet. Whoever made the rules appears to have thought that those who commit more serious crimes should have to do a little more work to earn a pardon: an applicant convicted of an indictable offence or a sexual offence has to include a description of the circumstances under which they had committed their crime and of how getting a pardon will be useful to them in their life circumstances (obviously, by removing an obstacle to getting work and generally being considered rehabilitated by society).

Assuming the application was prepared correctly, the Parole Board will normally grant a pardon after 12 to 18 months. In cases where, due to a poorly completed file, an application is rejected, people have to wait a full year before they can apply for a pardon again.

About the Author

Ned Lecic grew up in Toronto and spent seven years teaching English in Prague. Having returned to Toronto, he now works as a writer in a pardons agency and also writes for pleasure. Topics of interest to him include criminal and civil law, nature, aircraft and bagpipes, which he plays.

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