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Pardons backlog can be cleared, says Blaney, but parole board has no time frame

Last Updated May 7, 2015 at 8:30 pm EDT

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney (left) and RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson (right) prepare to appear at a House of Commons committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Thursday, May 7, 2015 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

OTTAWA – The Parole Board of Canada has the funding to deal with a long-standing backlog of thousands of old pardon applications for serious offences, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said Thursday.

Blaney told a House of Commons committee that the board is meeting its objectives and is on time in handling the application backlog, which dates back as far as 2012 when the Conservative government overhauled the pardons system.

“A little more than 5,000 are left and Mr. (Harvey) Cenaiko (the chairman of the parole board) and his team confirmed to me that they have the financial resources to keep dealing with the backlog,” Blaney said in response to a question from a New Democrat MP.

“And they really are on objective and on time.”

That will be news to the 5,700 applicants whose efforts to seal their old criminal records and move on with their lives have been in limbo for years.

The board said in March that, while it was on track to finally clear the backlog of old applications for less serious, summary convictions, it could not continue to devote the same resources to tackling some the more serious cases.

“Pardon applications for indictable offences in the backlog are being processed as resources permit,” the board’s website currently states.

“The PBC does not currently have a time frame for when the remaining backlog of applications for indictable offences will be cleared.”

Some professional pardon application services, which operate in a fashion similar to tax preparation services, are advising clients with old applications to give up, forfeit their original application fee and re-apply under the new $631 “record suspension” process.

“We have been apprised that currently the PBC is processing 100 pardon applications from the backlog per month,” Azmairnin Jadavji, president and CEO of Vancouver-based Pardon Services Canada, said in an email Thursday.

“At this rate it will take another four years before that backlog is cleared. Many of our clients have already waited over three years and have put their career and travel plans on hold.”

The board said Thursday it was not necessarily advising the current 5,700 backlogged applicants to start over.

“Because applicants have asked the board if they can do so, we have provided information on this option to applicants, with the emphasis on first checking that they qualify under the record suspension program before making their decision,” said the unsigned emailed response.

The Conservative government overhauled the pardons system to make it more expensive and rigorous after The Canadian Press reported in 2010 that serial sex predator Graham James had been granted a pardon three years earlier.

Pardons, now known as record suspensions, are designed to seal a criminal record and allow offenders who have served their sentences and lived crime-free for years to reintegrate, get better jobs and travel abroad.

For many years the application fee was a modest $50, reflecting the societal good and powerful incentive a pardon provides to former convicts to keep from re-offending.

“Since 1970, more than 460,000 Canadians have received pardons and record suspensions. Ninety-six per cent of these are still in force, indicating that the vast majority of pardon/record suspension recipients remain crime-free in the community,” the Parole Board website says.

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