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Tory bill would replace pardons with harder-to-get 'record suspensions'

Former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy listens to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews as he unveils legislation that toughens requirements for criminal pardons at an Ottawa news conference on May 11, 2010.

Adrian Wyld/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Karla Homolka will not receive a pardon for her sex crimes, and will have a more difficult time getting any sort of relief, if legislation introduced by the Conservative government Tuesday makes it into law.

The bill would do away with the currently routine pardons granted to any criminals who apply after their sentence is completed.

Pardons would be replaced by "record suspensions," which would be more difficult and take longer to get. Those convicted of sex crimes against children or those with more than three convictions would be ineligible.

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"It's not the state's business to be in the forgiveness business," Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety declared.

"The current system of pardons implies that what the person did is somehow okay, or is forgiven, or that the harm done has somehow disappeared," he said. "Our government disagrees."

If the bill passes, people convicted of minor offences will have to wait five years before asking for a record suspension, as opposed to the current three years for a pardon.

Those convicted of serious offences will have to wait 10 years, up from the current five. And the onus will be on the applicant to demonstrate that a record suspension would contribute to their rehabilitation.

Craig Jones, executive director of the John Howard Society, called the bill a rushed and punitive act authored by "short-term-oriented, hair-on-fire opportunists."

The legislation follows a public uproar that began when The Canadian Press revealed that hockey coach Graham James had obtained a pardon in 2007 after he was convicted for sexual assaults against two teens, including Sheldon Kennedy, who went on to play in the National Hockey League.

Another former NHLer, Theoren Fleury, lodged a formal complaint with Winnipeg police in January alleging he, too, was abused by Mr. James when he was in junior hockey.

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"I know there's more than Theoren that has filed a complaint and I guess we're going to have to see how that plays out," Mr. Kennedy said.

News of the James pardon prompted an Easter weekend phone call to Mr. Toews from Prime Minister Stephen Harper with an order to revamp the system quickly.

The Prime Minister subsequently noted that Karla Homolka, convicted of sexual offences in connection with her former husband, Paul Bernardo, would be eligible to apply for a pardon this year.

Mr. Toews said if the new legislation passes before Ms. Homolka applies, she will be subject to the 10-year rule, which would put off her eligibility to 2015.

The opposition parties have said they want to examine the proposed legislation carefully before deciding whether to support it.

Under the current system, a pardon does not forgive a criminal record but masks it during criminal-record background checks, though the records of sex offenders show up if they apply to work with children and others considered vulnerable.

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With a report from The Canadian Press

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About the Author
Writer-at-large

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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