Second Chances

“As you from crimes would pardon’d be, 
Let your indulgence set me free.” 

Consider the following scenarios:

  1. A person in their sixties flies with their elderly parent to the west coast to embark on an Alaskan cruise, but is denied entry because of a Possession of Marijuana conviction from the early 1980’s. They had pleaded guilty back then, a nineteen year old caught smoking a joint at the Canadian National Exhibition.
  2. A man in his forties applies for a job with Walmart, but a conviction for Theft is detected on his criminal record check and he is refused the job. He had stolen some groceries when he was in his twenties.
  3. A young mother cannot volunteer at her children’s school because of a DUI conviction from a few years ago.
  4. A young man grows increasingly frustrated as he cannot pursue his education and employment goals due to a criminal past that includes violence and weapons.
  5. Ten years after being convicted of sexual related offences, a sex offender seeks to have their name removed from the national sex offender registry and their record cleared.

Approximately ten percent of Canadians, close to four million people, have criminal records.  How to deal with these records raises questions of who deserves a second (or third, fourth or fifth) chance and how and should they be given.

There is currently a movement to make Record Suspensions, formerly called Pardons, more readily available and less expensive. Currently the process is painfully slow and involves waiting periods of five to ten years from a person’s last conviction, a relatively complicated application form, as well as fees for the application, fingerprints, record retrieval, court documents and police checks.

The government has recently made the process for obtaining a Record Suspension for Possession of Marijuana convictions much easier and quicker. And effective January 2022, it has also reduced the fee for all applications.  

Arguments are also being made for a “spent regime”, whereby some criminal records, mostly those deemed not serious, would be automatically sealed after the passage of a certain amount of time.  This would more quickly and easily remove barriers to employment, education, and travel for people, and ease the administrative costs and delays in our Record Application system.

But, of course, it leads to the tricky question of which criminal offences are considered less serious and worthy of an automatic record removal?  

Drugs?  Thefts?  Frauds?  Drinking and Driving?  Assaults?  Weapons?  Sex Offences? 

Should it be based on the specific offence, or the sentence they were given, or on a case-by-case basis?

And inevitably, this discussion will attract the NIMBY (not in my back yard) argument of some: “Sure I’m in favour of new beginnings and people clearing their criminal records, but I would want to know if a convicted criminal lives next door, works where I do, or is near my children.”

I have some snowbird friends who ship their vehicles to Florida each winter through a company that provides this service. On the required paperwork, they are asked if they have a criminal record.  This is strange. What, you can’t ship your car to Florida in 2022 because you smoked a joint at the Ex in 1980?  I wonder if this is a backdoor method for the US to track the records of Canadian citizens.

My two older children often complain that I’m way too soft on my youngest son. You know, the cute one who gets away with everything, but he’s charming and generally means well. 

Part of me is admittedly just too soft and prefers being the good cop to my wife’s bad cop schtick, but part of me just favours forgiveness, redemption, and multiple chances. It’s not only good for the taker, but also the giver.

The quality of mercy is not strained. 
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven 
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest; 
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. 
(yup, Willie S again)

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