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Pardons Paranoia?

OTTAWA, Ont. - New pardons rules recently introduced by the federal government have truckers with criminal records worried, but some experts say the rules won't amount to much more than a tempest in a...

OTTAWA, Ont. –New pardons rules recently introduced by the federal government have truckers with criminal records worried, but some experts say the rules won’t amount to much more than a tempest in a teapot for most drivers.

Bill C23 was tabled in Parliament this spring in the wake of the news that former hockey coach Graham James, convicted in 1997 of sexual assaults against two teens, including future NHLer Sheldon Kennedy, received a pardon in 2007.

The new law, if passed in its current form, would change the term “pardon” to “record suspension,” increase the wait times for summary convictions from three to five years and for indictable offenses from five to 10 years and rule out “record suspensions” for persons convicted of three or more indictable offenses or of sexual assault against minors.

The news they may have to wait longer to apply to have their criminal records sealed and therefore invisible on the RCMP’s Canadian Police Information Centre database, which is regularly checked at the US border by Homeland Security officials, has truckers and other individuals scrambling to apply for pardons under the old rules, say pardons experts.

“We’ve doubled our staff to handle applications, and asked them to work Saturdays as well until the new rules come into law,” says Peter Dimakos, business development manager for Canadian Pardon Services.

But some pardons experts feel truckers are overreacting.

“All of this scary crap comes from the Karla Homolka, Paul Bernardo fiasco,” says Paulette Gauthier- Roy, owner of Pardons Inc. based in northern Ontario. “The attorney general got burnt when he made a deal with Karla Homolka and she got off scott free and now she’s coming up for a pardon. Then people found out about the hockey coach.”

Gauthier-Roy, who works with truckers, believes the new rules, if passed in their current form, will have little to no impact on her clients.

“I’m not going to go and start drumming up drama about why truckers should be running to our offices to get pardons before the wait times are increased,” she says. “The bulk of my clients have records that are more than 10 years old, so they wouldn’t be affected anyway. As for those who have summary convictions for DUIs and such, they may have to wait five years to apply for a pardon instead of three, but we don’t even know that yet. What you have to remember is that these new rules are being created to deal with people who’ve committed sexual crimes against children. The other rules may not even change.”

‘Hysteria’ is the word Gauthier- Roy uses to describe the reaction of the trucking community to the Stephen Harper government’s proposed changes.

But increased wait times for indictable offenses could have a severe impact on some truckers, other experts argue.

“There are people who get into trucking to turn their lives around,” points out Michael Ashby, communications director for the National Pardon Centre, headquartered in Montreal. “Some of these people do have a few indictable offenses on their records, so not being able to get a pardon could hold those people back. And having to wait 10 years instead of five for one indictable offense could be drastic.”

But does that mean truckers should be rushing to get their pardons applications in before the proposed changes become law (which could be as long as a year from now, if the minority government stands for that long, some point out)?

“For the small stuff, the changes won’t be huge,” says Ashby. “But for anyone with a few indictable offenses on their record, it’s a good idea.”

Will changes impact border crossing?

The answer to the above question is both ‘No’ and ‘Yes,’ according to pardons experts; ‘No’ because the US does not recognize Canadian pardons.

“The Americans don’t recognize our pardon system,” points out Ashby. “So if you’re at the border and you tell them you’ve got a pardon they’ll say it doesn’t count.” Of course, lying to US border officials about whether you’ve had a pardon is against the law in the US and could get you permanently banned, points out Ashby.

Getting a waiver is the only guarantee of US entry for Canadians who’ve been convicted of a crime, pardons experts agree.

But what if you’ve been pardoned and haven’t previously crossed into the US? Can you get away with crossing the border if your record has already been sealed and you lie to border officials about it, breaking US law? Pardons experts are divided on whether this is possible. Some believe that US border officials have access to Canadian criminal records even after they’ve been pardoned.

Others believe US border officials are just experts at spotting and sweating out liars.

According to the RCMP, US border officials do have access to criminal records on CPIC, but not once individuals have received pardons.

“There is no indication on CPIC that your record has been sealed,” confirmed RCMP communications officer Julie Gagnon.

RCMP officials could not confirm, however, whether US Homeland Security downloads CPIC information on a daily basis and then keeps it, thereby keeping track of Canadian criminal records long after they have been removed from the database by the RCMP. Neither could officials from the National Parole Board, which regulates pardons.

“We know US border officials have access to CPIC but we don’t know what they do with the information once they get it,” says Nadine Archambault, communications officer.

According to her, the sealing of criminal records after a pardon is required under Canadian law, but whether local police services and courts are actually doing it is debatable.

“We know records are not visible in CPIC and we do request that courts and local police services seal the criminal records of individuals who have received pardons but we are not able to follow up with every court and police service to ensure that they do,” said Archambault, adding that revealing whether someone has been pardoned is illegal and can result in a summary conviction under Canadian law.

Better safe than sorry

Still, some pardons experts believe it’s better to be safe than sorry and recommend getting your pardon as soon as you possibly can, especially prior to applying for a waiver. Scott Mindel, an information counselor with Pardons Canada, is one such expert.

“Waivers are a cash cow for the US government, so why should you apply for one unless you need it?” says Mindel. According to him, getting a pardon first allows you to determine if you’ll need a waiver or not.

“Most people we deal with don’t even know what they actually ended up being convicted of, because their lawyers pled them down. After they start the pardon process with us, they find out. Then they can make a determination, based on what they’ve been convicted of, as to whether they need to apply for a waiver,” Mindel says.

Waivers are issued according to US law, not Canadian law, he adds, and therefore a charge considered minor in Canada could require a waiver for entry to the US and vice-versa.

“Finding out what you’ve actually been convicted of will tell you if you need a waiver or not,” he asserts, adding that entry into the US is determined by “the book of moral turpitude. You can look it up on the Internet.”

Indeed, the issue of whether a Canadian with a pardon can or can’t get into the US has little to do with the new pardons rules, if implemented, sums up Gauthier-Roy.

“The rules, as far as getting into the US, aren’t going to change, unless the US changes them,” she says.

Can you still get a job?

So will the new rules have a significant impact on those who want to drive in Canada only? Ontario Trucking Association v.p. of public affairs Doug Switzer says probably not.

“You can still get hired as a driver if you have a criminal record,” says Switzer. “But it depends on what you’ve been convicted of. It’s certainly not something that recommends you, especially if you have three convi
ctions for cargo theft or several DUIs. Then again, if you were in a bar room brawl 15 years ago when you were 18 years old, no one will give a damn.”

Switzer warns against lying about your record, even after you’ve obtained a pardon.

“Especially in this industry, it’s practically impossible to keep a secret,” says Switzer. “Chances are someone already knows and they’ll tell, and you’ll be in trouble for lying to your employer. You’re better off telling the truth up front.”

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