Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Legal and Constitutional Affairs
Issue 2 - Evidence for October 6, 2011
OTTAWA, Thursday, October 6, 2011
The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs met this day at 10:34 a.m. to study the Parole Board of Canada's User Fees Proposal, User Fees Act, S.C. 2004, c. 6, sbs. 4(2).
Senator John D. Wallace (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good morning and welcome, Senate colleagues, invited guests and members of the general public who are viewing today's proceedings on the CPAC television network. I am John Wallace, a senator from New Brunswick, and I am chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.
Colleagues, the matter before this committee today is the study and consideration of the most recent proposal from the Parole Board of Canada to increase the application user fee that it presently charges for processing pardon applications.
Briefly, to put this particular proposal in context, on June 29, 2010, An Act to Amend the Criminal Records Act, formerly known as Bill C-23A, came into force. This act amended the Criminal Records Act and placed restrictions, in certain cases, on applications for pardons.
Bill C-23A also added new criteria for the Parole Board to consider when determining whether or not a pardon should be granted for indictable offences.
Before the amendments were made by Bill C-23A, the Parole Board of Canada charged $50 for each pardon application. On June 22, 2010, during this committee's study of Bill C-23A, officials from the Parole Board informed this committee that the board planned to propose a fee increase for pardon applications, under the User Fees Act, following the enactment of Bill C-23A.
On September 27, 2010, a Parole Board application-fee proposal was tabled in the Senate and was referred to this committee. This Parole Board proposal sought to increase the pardon-application fee from $50 to $150, on an interim basis. The proposal indicated that a new user-fee proposal, taking into account the full cost of the more complex pardons-approval process that was introduced by Bill C-23A, would be presented by the board at a later date.
Last October, this committee heard testimony on the Parole Board's proposal for an interim application-fee increase. In its twelfth report, this committee recommended that the Senate approve the proposed increase to the pardon-application fee.
The Parole Board's current proposal is to increase the pardon application fee. This particular proposal was referred to the committee on September 27, 2010. It states that the current $150 fee, which came into effect in December of 2010, does not cover the indirect costs of processing a pardon application, nor does it address the additional requirements of Bill C- 23A. As a result, the Parole Board's current proposal, presently before this committee, is to increase the user fee for each pardon application from $150 to $631.
Colleagues, we have a number of witnesses before us today, and we are very pleased that they have taken the time to come and share their knowledge and background on this very important matter.
I would like to introduce representing the Respect Group Inc, Mr. Sheldon Kennedy, its co-founder; from the Canadian Crime Victim Foundation, Mr. Joseph Wamback, the chair and co-founder, and Lozanne Wamback, director and co-founder. From the Victims of Violence Canadian Centre for Missing Children, we are pleased to have back Ms. Sharon Rosenfeldt, its president.
Sheldon Kennedy, Co-Founder, Respect Group Inc.: Thank you. I am very grateful to be here today to share my perspectives on the proposed fee increase for pardons.
When I finally filed a report of sexual abuse against my junior coach in 1997, as an adult and professional hockey player, there were people in the media, hockey, and the town where it happened who did not believe me. On top of having to battle with the fear and shame that abuse brings, I had to deal with disbelievers. Children who are victimized spend years trying to explain what happened to them and working to restore their emotional well-being. Victims spend a lifetime dealing with the trauma. Offenders serve their time and get a subsidized pardon.
Victims often struggle with emotional issues, alcohol, drug dependency and suicide. They have to seek out their own specific forms of rehabilitation. Treatment programs range from $900 a month to several thousands. Yet we are worried about perpetrators paying $631 to get a pardon?
My abuser got three and a half years for his crimes and was released after only 18 months. He got a rubber-stamp pardon for $50 and took off to Mexico, with a clean record, a name change, and a chance to start offending yet again. He is in jail today.
What happened to me has been a 30-year struggle. I lost a lucrative professional hockey career, have been in countless treatment centres, continue counselling on a weekly basis, and I lived a reckless lifestyle, with significant costs to me, my friends, my family and my marriage. It has taken me 30 years to become a productive participant in the workforce.
Yet we are here today, concerned that paying $631 to get a pardon, which is the actual processing cost, will somehow be a financial burden on the perpetrator. Does not this further drive accountability in our system? I also understand that pardons will take longer to obtain with the introduction of Bill C-23A. In my mind, it gives the ex- offender more time to recover, rehab and save.
In the 13 years I have worked on these issues, I have learned that child victims of sexual abuse are scarred for life. They are not rehabilitated in 18 months. Police, social services and victims-assistance organizations view it every day. They have to work with these victims, and they see first-hand the horrific short-term and long-term effects and outcomes. I do not know a single professional who works with these victims who can see any logic or rationale at all in subsidizing the pardon process or the proposed fee increase.
In trying to relate this whole debate to my current life, I liken it to my role as a parent. I see my teenage daughter learning how to drive and wanting to get her licence and a car. She has known the cost of insurance since she started down this path. It is expensive, but it is something she desperately wants. I told her to save up for the insurance and it will happen, but it is not something that will be subsidized by the old man. If pardons are such a pivotal occurrence in ex- offenders' lives, they should be able to save, like anyone else, for something so important to them. By the way, $631 equates to 63 hours, or a week and a half, of work at $10 an hour.
Let me state, for the record, that I fully support the fee increase to $631 for an individual to be granted a pardon.
Joseph Wamback, Chair, Co-Founder, Canadian Crime Victim Foundation: Good morning, senators. The Canadian Crime Victim Foundation is an independent, non-government-sponsored foundation dedicated to giving victims a voice in Canada.
I am here today to represent the millions of law-abiding Canadians who have no voice and who have been harmed or frightened through criminal activity. Many of them have lost faith in the systems that were designed to protect them from harm, secondary re-victimization and further insult.
While preparing for this, I asked myself what exactly a pardon is. Simply, it is an opportunity to expunge past criminal behaviour. It is a final release from a societal system that has imposed sanctions for violating its rules and values, something that compassionate Canadians try to understand every day. However, those same compassionate Canadians are becoming increasingly frustrated at the complete lack of offender accountability and balance between offenders and victims.
A pardon is something considered by the seeker to have value. The cost should not only reflect the value placed upon it by the seeker but also, at an absolute minimum, reflect the administrative charges required to process it. It must not be the responsibility of victims and law-abiding Canadians to subsidize the application-process for pardons for those who choose, of their own free will, to engage in criminal activity. Those who violate our criminal laws do so at their own risk, their own choice and their own free will, knowing full well that, if caught, serious consequences and sanctions should be and will be imposed.
Those are Canadian rules. Those are society's rules, rules that all law-abiding Canadians follow. Without these rules and the law-abiding Canadians that follow them, we would descend into anarchy.
I have seen various statistics bandied about by opponents of this initiative. In my opinion, they have absolutely no value as they are anecdotal and biased at best.
What is the real issue at stake with this proposal to increase user-fees for pardons? I do not believe it is the $481. It is $150 now and is going to $631. It is about trust, confidence, balance, compassion, cost to law-abiding citizens, and final recognition and reconciliation of harm that has been done. It has nothing to do with what other countries or other venues do. This is Canada, with its own societal fabric and its right to make its own decisions.
It is about trust. All governments must respond to their citizens, not just to special interest groups. The backgrounder that I studied before I made my presentation identifies an overwhelming majority of responses to an online consultation that do not support the user-fee increase.
The request for a response to the consultation was posted on websites that are frequented by those with a personal interest in this outcome, such as the Parole Board, Corrections Canada, Public Safety Canada, offender-based organizations, and companies that make their living undertaking pardon applications. It is no wonder the results are as shown in the backgrounder. Ordinary Canadians, especially victims' groups, were not consulted. My organization never received any request for input, nor did any of those I correspond with or interact with on a daily basis.
Recently, for my own edification, I have undertaken a poll through my own website. Anecdotal as the poll may be, the results to date are that 100 per cent of people who responded are in favour of the application fee increase.
This is also about confidence. The justice and corrections systems of Canada must serve the needs of all Canadians, not just criminals and special interest groups. They must be transparent and fair and, most importantly, they must be perceived as such by all Canadians. Failure to achieve this undermines the effectiveness of those systems and therefore decreases their ability to function. When those systems cease to function, they effectively cease to exist in our country.
Part of the restorative justice initiative expands on the principles of recognition by the offender of harm done and participation in the restoration of that harm. Payment of the real costs of pardons by applicants will reinforce the restorative nature of the criminal event and the achievement of the offender's ultimate independence and rehabilitation. It will also serve to demonstrate to all law-abiding citizens that rehabilitation goals may have been achieved. It will further serve to demonstrate to victims of crimes that their continued re-victimization, through their tax subsidy for the pardon applications of their victimizers, may be at a close.
I spoke at the beginning about balance, and I want to explain my position on balance. Balancing the rights of victims and society with those of convicted criminals is of paramount importance. While offender-based NGOs receive tens of millions of dollars annually from federal, provincial and municipal governments, victims' rights organizations receive little or nothing at all.
My foundation operates with no government grants or funding and no salaries or fees. Offender-based organizations currently, through their websites, advise pardon applicants that they will assist with costs, and in some cases pay all costs, for pardon applications. Yet, there is no such equivalent service or NGO in Canada for those offenders' victims.
Offenders, who are the potential pardon seekers, while in closed custody or in the community serving their open- custody sentence, and even after warrant expiry, receive counselling, subsidized housing, job-training, etc, while their victims receive nothing.
When new criminal law measures are introduced to support victims or to strengthen existing criminal law legislation, the opponents of the proposed measures scream from rooftops across Canada: ``Who will pay? Imagine the cost. We cannot afford this. How can you burden Canadian taxpayers with such expense?'' Yet here we have a proposal that will save Canadian taxpayers in excess of $10 million annually, money that would be so welcomed to provide desperately needed counselling and medical costs for victims of these pardon seekers.
Correctional investigators have the authority and are mandated to resolve offender claims for compensation, such as the theft of their personal pornography stash from their cells, within 60 days.
The national victims' ombudsman has no such authority or legislated mandate. Provincial criminal injuries compensation programs are limited and take up to six years — not 60 days — to resolve claims, and in many cases some claims are never resolved, and some provinces have no compensation programs at all. I speak from personal experience.
Those who commit the crime should pay for that crime, yet few do. Restitution orders, which are the sole authority of Canadian courts, are now imposed in only 3 per cent of the cases. These orders are not court-enforced, and it always falls on the victim to seek judgment from the victimizer. In most cases, the victim cannot afford to seek remedy, and if they do they still cannot collect. Yet some would have these same victims subsidize through their tax dollars the cost of pardons for their victimizers.
I spoke about compassion. Compassion is recognizing what has been taken from victims and from society. The phrase ``they have paid their debt to society'' is not only wrong, it is insulting. The debts offenders owe are to their victims, whose lives for the most part have been inexorably altered by criminal behaviour. We recognize that victims of crime in Canada do not play a participatory role in the Canadian justice system. At the very least, please let their voices be heard here today.
Finally, let me speak about the cost. To suggest that a $480 service fee increase is punitive is simply not true. I believe that statement to be a fraudulent over-exaggeration of reality. Pardons are sought anywhere from 3 to 10 years after warrant expiry. Certainly three years to save $431 — which is less than $3 a week — is sufficient time if the pardon is so valued by the pardon seeker, and 10 years is less than $4 per month. If the pardon seeker places such value on the pardon, then $4 a month is far from punitive.
Dozens of law firms in Canada are now charging anywhere from $450 to $800 to assist with pardon applications without any guarantee of success. They are all doing just fine.
Many who seek pardons spent no time in closed custody and are free to continue with their jobs and interact with their families while serving court-ordered sanctions — their punishment. The contrary exists with many victims, who are relegated to a future filled with life-altering emotional trauma. Many are unable to work or perform the simplest daily tasks.
Many assault and rape victims develop such severe post-traumatic stress disorders that they become virtual prisoners in their own homes, affecting their quality of life, their family's quality of life, and in some cases, their community's quality of life. They do so without any support or counselling and more importantly, any opportunity for release from the trauma of the crimes committed against them.
Currently, those people are forced to subsidize the pardons of their victimizers. Service fees are a fact of life in Canada. Everything from permanent resident applications to funerals has service fees, ranging from a few dollars to several thousands of dollars — service fees that must be paid by those who seek and reap the benefit. The increase discussed today will create greater accountability for those applying for the pardon. The cost of these fees also emphasizes the sanctions imposed, as well as the value of the pardon. Discounting service fees will discount any rehabilitative factors associated with the pardons.
User fees representative of actual costs will also eliminate frivolous applications and serve to demonstrate to victims and law-abiding Canadians that they are not being forced to subsidize their victimizers.
To those who are vehemently opposed to this initiative, I have one suggestion: Do what I and so many other Canadians from coast to coast do on a daily basis. If their opposition to pardon increases is of such vast importance, then take the initiative and raise the funds independently. Do not burden and insult victims of crime and Canadian taxpayers by forcing this subsidy down their throats. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your time.
Sharon Rosenfeldt, President, Victims of Violence Canadian Centre for Missing Children: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen and members of the committee. Victims of Violence is pleased to have the opportunity to present our views today to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. Victims of Violence is a national crime victim organization founded in 1984 to provide support and assistance to victims of crime. The organization also strives to seek the recognition of crime victims being accepted as an integral part of Canada's justice system. We appear here this morning in support of the proposal of the Parole Board of Canada to increase the pardon user fee in its current form.
There is usually a victim or victims for every crime a person is seeking a pardon for. I cannot help myself from bringing to your attention that we found it odd that the long list of consultant recipients did not include victim of crime organizations. Our members would have liked the opportunity to respond to the consultation paper earlier. We feel that had we been given the opportunity as a recognized victim organization, the results of the consultation response figure likely would have been a bit more balanced. It is clear that the results of 1,047 persons saying ``no'' to the proposal of an increase to pardon user fees and 12 persons saying ``yes'' is rather odd. I will not elaborate. Since our organization has been recognized by the clerk of the standing committee as being an organization who might like our views known in this matter, I would now like the record to show that I will now be number 15 to say ``yes.''
In 2008, the Department of Justice released a report that estimated the costs of crime. The report stated that the tangible cost of crime was approximately $31.4 billion, while the intangible costs were over double that at $68.2 billion. It seems that the tangible costs of a $631 user fee when seeking a pardon should not be included in the government cost of crime in the future.
Many victims of crime face the same problems with tangible expenses as they too try to rehabilitate themselves. Some victims cannot return to work for an extended period of time and find themselves in difficult financial situations, but the taxpayer does not pay for that. Many victims need counselling but cannot afford the $125 per hour fee. The taxpayer does not pay for that. Many victims of crime need to have their homes or businesses repaired. Their insurance pays, but their fees go up substantially. The taxpayer does not pay for that. If they do not have insurance, that is just their tough luck. Many victims of crime have to take a day or days off work to testify. Many have child care expenses while they are in court. The taxpayer does not pay for that. I could go on, but the point is there are two parties to every crime — the offender and the victim — and we must always try to have a balance in deciding what costs should be covered by the taxpayer. We submit that covering the cost of a user fee when seeking a pardon should not be covered by the taxpayer.
The person wanting a pardon did not start life with a criminal record. They made a choice when they broke the law, and as a society we have forgiveness for this, but to move forward and eventually seek a pardon is the responsibility of the person seeking it to begin with.
This is something that the user will have to save for because it is not right to expect anyone else to be responsible for this cost, just as I would save my money to purchase something I really wanted or felt was important. It is called taking personal responsibility. This is part of rehabilitation as they learn to become responsible as law-abiding citizens. In our opinion, if they have made the decision to live crime-free for the three-, five- or ten-year designated timeframe that allows them to be able to apply for a pardon, then they have already shown personal responsibility. Part of that responsibility would be to plan and save money toward the expense of seeking a pardon. Thank you very much for the invitation and for listening.
Senator Fraser: You have reminded us that victims' voices have not been heard in this process. We are grateful to all of you for being here and for what you have done over the years. Mr. Kennedy, the courage you showed in 1997 was one of the main reasons why Canadians have come to understand what a terrible plague actually exists in this country. We all thank you so much for that. Starting with the sentence, what subsequently happened to your abuser is a classic example of how things can and have gone terribly wrong on occasion in this country. Thank you for what you have done for us all.
You have seen the transcript of our earlier discussions, so as you know that among the topics we have been looking at is the structure of the proposed fee increase. There have been a number of ways in which that has been raised. For example, it has been suggested that it would be fairer and more efficient if there were differential fees based on the gravity of the original offence. Was it a minor summary conviction? Someone who shoplifted a $25 handbag or a 19- year-old who passed a joint at a party is quite different from the kind of terrible offences of which you have been victims. It costs less to investigate whether people who have been guilty at that level are clean. For the more serious offences, as Mr. Kennedy's case reminds us, even more thorough checks are probably an excellent idea. Would it be appropriate to differentiate the fee on that basis?
Alternatively, would it be appropriate to differentiate the fee on the basis of a means test? As we have been reminded by some witnesses, persons who want a pardon in part to get a better job and get off social assistance cannot save because the social assistance people claw back the money. If you have an extra $400, your social assistance benefits will be reduced in order to lay hands on that.
Do either of those alternatives strike you as being fair or worth exploration?
Mr. Wamback: On social assistance: We interact with victims of extreme violence and parents who have lost their children to homicide. Many of those families find themselves on social assistance because they are unable to return to work. I know in our own case after our son was hurt, I could not hold a pen in my hand for two weeks. Yet, those same people are able to save enough money to provide a headstone for their son's grave because it is important to them. It means something to them. It is part of their life.
If the pardon seeker believes that a pardon to expunge their criminal activity in this country is vital and important to them then the amount of money being suggested over that period of time is completely and totally insignificant. It is a few dollars a week. At the risk of being repetitive, to suggest that it is punitive is an extreme exaggeration of the fact. We do interact; we know; we understand; we have been there and we have lived it. The costs to rehabilitate my son have now been in excess of $250,000. I have my own business. I do not have insurance. We got funding from no one. We saved and we scrimped. We lived without so that we could pay the bills necessary for our son. I believe if it is of value, someone is seeking a pardon can save. It will also teach a certain degree of responsibility and accountability to that individual who was seeking this release.
As far as a graduated fee, we have graduated sentences. We have all kinds of latitude within the Canadian criminal justice system. I do not believe anyone who has a criminal record, from a minor to a major infraction, should be approached any differently. I believe this is a final nail in what we understand should be the purpose of incarceration in this country. The purpose of sentencing and sanction is not only punitive. It is also supposed to have a rehabilitative effect. If we discount it because you broke this law as opposed to that law, I think we destroy the actual value of the process.
Ms. Rosenfeldt: Senator, if I am not mistaken, I think your question is in relation to social assistance.
Senator Fraser: The second half of the question.
Ms. Rosenfeldt: In relation to social assistance, I think the belief is that for a person who is on social assistance and able to get $900 or $1,000 a month, the process does not provide for them to be able to save $631 dollars, and if they do that is deducted from their next cheque. Am I understanding you correctly?
Senator Fraser: Yes, that is my understanding from what we have been told by previous witnesses.
Ms. Rosenfeldt: I disagree with that. I know people who have been on social assistance through my own family. Social assistance gets a bad name for some reason. Social assistance is there for protection of any individual. You do not have to be poor. You can turn to them for any type of problem and they are there.
Most social service agencies would be very pleased to have before them an individual who said, ``Look, I have not broken a law for three or five years; I have abided by the rules, but the problem is I cannot get a job because of my pardon. I want more than anything to be able to work. Therefore I would like to be able to save X number of dollars out of my monthly money toward this pardon so I can get off the rolls of the social services.''
No one can convince me that there is any social service agency that would not be pleased with that attitude. They would obviously like the person off the social service money roll in order to be able to help others behind him. I have seen what has been presented previously. I have seen many documents. That thought needs to be investigated on behalf of social service agencies who do respect Canadian citizens who have difficulties, including some people who have done crime. We do not have a problem with that. They are there for a purpose, but they are also there to assist the individual to get off of the rolls of social assistance.
Mr. Kennedy: I look at this as about accountability and change. We are hoping that criminals do change. Reintegration back into society is all about learning how to handle our finances and how to save for things that are important so that we can move on in our lives. I think that this is part of it. Our young people are having a hard time getting jobs, and we are expecting them to save up for certain things. This is no different. We will find a find a way and they will find a way to get there. To me, this is about accountability. I think that what bothered me and most Canadians last year is when we realized that Graham James received a pardon; Canadians were blown away that someone like that would even get one, just because of misunderstanding. When we learned a little bit about being able to go online and it was pretty much ``1-800 pardon me'' and you would get it, there was lack of accountability. That is where we are today. When we do something wrong, we need to be accountable for it.
Ms. Rosenfeldt: In relation to the first part of the question on whether there should there be a sliding scale, we are looking at $631. I think it will cost a lot more money, which could cause a lot more backlog for people seeking parole. I think it should be straight $631. I know people who have committed crimes. A good friend of mine sent in a presentation here. His wife committed a minor crime years ago. She would like to have it expunged only to get into the United States, because they now enjoy very good holidays there. His attitude is ``Look, $631 is nothing compared to what I have already paid to a private agency.'' They have already spent in excess of $2,000 in three years, and they still do not have a pardon. It is a just a very minor crime, having stolen property in her dwelling under $200. He says he would gladly pay $631. Just get the system working. If that is what it costs to get the process going and be fair for everybody, then $631 should be it.
Senator Boisvenu: I would first like to thank you for being here this morning. I know that giving testimony is always very emotional for victims of crime and it stirs up the past. So thank you for your courage.
Yesterday, one of our fellow senators asked whether pardon is a right or a privilege and yesterday's witnesses told us that it is a privilege. The government grants a privilege by erasing the criminal record of those who committed crimes in the past and were convicted as a result.
Victims will never be able to have anything erased, and, Mr. Wamback, you made this very clear in your testimony. The government is truly granting a privilege to those criminals. I understood from your remarks that it is not about revoking the privileges or rights of criminals in order to give them to the victims. It is a matter of finding balance in what the government does with funding, specifically when it comes to the way victims and criminals are treated. It is about ensuring that criminals assume their responsibilities right to the end.
In your opinion, do the substantial fees that criminals have to pay for the government to remove their criminal records fall under their responsibility to society for the criminal acts they have committed? Is paying the full price for this administrative act part of their responsibility?
Mr. Wamback: I would like to answer that first. Thank you very much for your question. I believe it is not only the responsibility. To me, it signifies an acceptance of the accountability for the criminal act. It demonstrates responsibility that is being taken by those who seek pardons to provide not only victims but all Canadians a clear demonstration that they have accepted that. Part of what this country is seeking this in this program of restorative justice is recognition of harm done and accepting the responsibility. Your statement about it being a privilege that is granted to those who break the laws of this country is so correct. It is not a right. It is a privilege granted by a very compassionate country, but that compassionate country cannot be pushed to subsidize the final completion of a sentence or warrant expiry by those who have victimized them.
Ms. Rosenfeldt: I would agree with Mr. Wamback in his assessment. I used to be a drug and alcohol abuse counsellor years ago. That is what my background was. I am Aboriginal, and I worked at an Aboriginal treatment centre. We had people coming in on temporary absences or to serve the remainder of their sentences in the community. I was a counsellor before Darren was murdered and I was a counsellor about seven years after. I returned to the field after seven years. I could not counsel myself for seven years, how could I counsel anyone else? Poundmaker's Lodge out of Edmonton, Alberta is a fantastic treatment centre. It is completely Aboriginal. The whole process there was to teach them personal responsibility and accountability in moving forward. I believe that we as a society and possibly you as senators have to address that situation in your hearts. Should a person who has committed a crime, and has now not committed a crime over the last number of years, be responsible for paying this fee? As an organization, and as an individual who pays taxes, I believe this is all part of their rehabilitation. I think that is forgotten so much in the people who are asking for it. It is such an important key in their wanting to reintegrate back into society, and we welcome them back.
Mr. Kennedy: As a victim, I know the importance of having to work to change. If you are a father you need to change and put some effort and some good time in to be the dad that you want to be. It is the emotional depression and mental health stuff that you are left with from the trauma of crime. Not only on the victim side is it about change. On the criminal side it is about change, too. If we do not change, then we are not going to be a productive citizen in our communities or in Canada. If the criminals do not change, they are not either.
This is about that whole accountability process. It is about being accountable. I know what I needed to do, where I needed to go. All of this is part of it.
Senator Runciman: Off the top, Mr. Kennedy, we had a witness from the Elizabeth Fry Society. I inferred from her comment that this was just one case that has caused all of this. We heard a week or two ago of the case in Nova Scotia of a teacher who sexually assaulted a 12-year-old girl, was given a pardon and is now charged again with a serious sexual offence against a minor. The reality is that until you had the courage to shine a light on this situation, the Parole Board was granting 98 to 99 per cent of the applications that came before it. It was a rubber-stamp process. A lot of credit is due to you. I would like to ask you a personal question. I know we are talking about the recovery of costs here today, but I think it would be interesting and important for us to hear from you. Do you think the government has gone far enough with respect to how they address the issuance of pardons? Do you think all has been done that should be done, or are there further steps that you would like to see taken?
Mr. Kennedy: For the last year and so forth, I know Bill C-23A has given that extension for individuals to receive a pardon.
Yes, the fee structure is important, but to me it is about change. I have had the opportunity to be in our prison system and to speak to criminals. A lot of them were victims of crime as youngsters. There had to be a hard line taken for me to be able to change. Sometimes I have to be a parent and take a hard line for change to happen. I think that is what is happening here. It is about accountability, taking that line and looking again. We have learned that this is not a one-case shot; it is one in six males to one in three females. I think the pardon process in the proposed bills is an absolute great step. I think it drives accountability, and my voice around this is change and the ability to change.
Senator Runciman: Ms. Rosenfeldt mentioned intangible costs. I think there is no one who better exemplifies that than she and her husband, who carried the burden of fighting on behalf of victims for so many years. We thank you for being here and for the good work you have done for many years.
Mr. Wamback mentioned the lack of support for victims' organizations, and you talked about the support for prisoner or offender advocacy groups. Could you elaborate on that a little bit? It would be nice to have some details. Your organizations are essentially volunteers. There is no national organization that has funding like some of the folks who have appeared before us.
Mr. Wamback: Senator Runciman, I could go on for hours about that issue. Twelve years ago my 15-year-old son was hurt very badly through a criminal assault. As an ordinary Canadian prior to that time, we would read about things in the newspaper and we would say, ``That is awful. That is terrible.'' We would close that paper and continue with our dinner and our daily lives. We were like every other Canadian that walks the face of this country from coast to coast. We did not know. It was not until that time that we were dragged into it unwillingly that we started to understand what was happening.
Victims' rights groups were virtually non-existent in Canada. Today victims' rights groups operate on a completely volunteer basis. We have no salaries. We have no fees. We raise money for siblings of homicide victims and survivors of extreme violence. One of our first university college scholarships went to Ryan Mahaffy, the brother of Leslie Mahaffy. When he was 22 years old, all he could do was look at his shoes. He would not look you in the face when you spoke with him. We gave Ryan a $25,000 scholarship. He decided he wanted to be a helicopter pilot. Today he has a life. He is flying helicopters. He is a contributing member of Canadian society. He is no longer a burden on society. What frustrates us is not only the fact that John Howard, Elizabeth Fry, St. Leonard's, Operation Springboard — and I could go on — receive tens of millions of dollars annually of taxpayers' money through grants. Anyone can find this information. Just go on to the charities directorate website and see where their money comes from, and go to the charities directorate website for my foundation and see where my money comes from. Supporting the inequities and the imbalance that exist between victims, ordinary Canadians and those convicted and sentenced for violent crimes is an absolute outrage. We receive no money. Yet the salaries of the distracters who come here to testify are being paid for by taxpayers. Ms. Rosenfeldt is not paid. I am not paid. My wife is not paid. We have bills to pay, but we work for it because we believe that what we are doing is right for this country.
Twelve years ago I circulated a petition across Canada for changes to young offenders legislation. The changes were not Machiavellian, difficult or hard. They were proactive. That petition has 1.3 million Canadians' signatures on it. These are the great unwashed, the people whose voices are not heard who are tired and want change. They are frustrated. What frightens me more than any of this is the complete lack of faith the average Canadian has not only in the justice system, but also in government agencies including Corrections Canada.
We see people who commit manslaughter who do not spend one day in closed custody. These are people seeking pardons. These are not people who had a joint or have stolen a magazine. Some people who are seeking pardons have committed serious crimes. The way Statistics Canada reports, serious crimes today have changed. It is reported on a crime severity index which does not reflect the severity of the crime. It reflects the amount of time the judge has decided in his independent wisdom that he would impart to the individual who committed a crime. There are inequities. I am sorry for going on, but you are right. There is a massive imbalance and the issues that are before us today will go a long way to restoring lost confidence in our judicial and corrections systems in Canada.
Ms. Rosenfeldt: Senator Runciman, behind the scenes within the bureaucracy of public safety, justice and others, grants are given based on who they know and support. The decisions are made by the bureaucracy and in public safety it is very tough to get a grant. The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime was successful to the tune of $19,000. The offender rights groups are like, ``The sky is the limit.''
There is a lot of disparity. There are problems. When the pension situation was being addressed, the House of Commons committee said, ``Where should this excess money go now? It will save the government maybe $10 million. Maybe we should give it to the Department of Justice to disperse for victims.'' I said ``No, please do not.'' Give it to seniors. Our organization is a grassroots organization, the people that do the grunt work.
There are victims' services that are paid. They do not appear at these committees; they cannot because they are government employees. We do the grunt work. That is maybe sounding like sour grapes, but I cannot help it. I have wanted to say this for so long: The whole grants process must be at looked at.
Senator Angus: Good morning to all of you, witnesses. Thank you so much for coming. It is refreshing to hear from your side of the issues.
First, I want to ask all of you this — you may find this a strange question, but I think it is fundamental when we are looking at the different sides of the issue — do you actually believe that pardons should be granted?
Ms. Rosenfeldt: I do.
Mr. Kennedy: I believe pardons should be granted, with some exceptions.
Mr. Wamback: I do, and the only parenthesis that I would place on my answer is that they should be earned; it is not free. It has to be a clear, conscious demonstration that, as Mr. Kennedy said, demonstrates to us to ordinary Canadians, to society, that change has occurred. There are certain crimes that I do not believe pardons should ever be issued for.
Senator Angus: Are those crimes that pardons are being granted for?
Mr. Wamback: I believe some are, but I am talking, of course, about the cases of extreme violence, torture, murder of young children. That should not be a pardonable crime.
Senator Angus: In principle, as part of our system of justice, it makes sense, if it is managed properly.
Ms. Rosenfeldt: By all means.
Senator Angus: The next question ties into an old adage. Some people think the $631 is prohibitive, and I thought your comments were good on that, Mr. Wamback. We have heard other people say there should be no charge; or $50 is okay, but $631 is totally not okay. Once you have established that you have to pay, my question is the following: Have you ever had complaints when the fee was $50? We are hearing a lot of complaints about $631. Were there complaints similarly about the $50 that you know of? Was that an inhibition?
Mr. Wamback: To be completely honest with you, I have never heard anyone ever talk about the cost of a pardon, period, in Canada, until this initiative.
Ms. Rosenfeldt: The same thing, yes.
Mr. Kennedy: There were a lot of blinders put on to pardons, period, until the Graham James pardon came up and, all of a sudden, everyone was a pardon expert.
Senator Angus: The fee was not an issue, whether it was $50 or $150. Now, suddenly, because it is $600, and as you point out, a week's worth at $10 an hour, it is not an enormous amount of money, is it?
Mr. Wamback: What has occurred as a result of the publicity over this particular issue is that now millions of Canadians across this country are really getting upset. That is where my issue is. That is why I speak about trust and faith in our systems. That is what will do a lot of damage.
Ms. Rosenfeldt: I have a friend who is on our board of directors. He spent a lot of years in prison, doing robberies. His biggest was Canada Post. He has been out of prison for 35 years. He is a member of our board and has taught us a lot about the other side, crime and legislation, et cetera.
This individual's last term for the Canada Post heist was a 10-year term. He was married and had two children. He saw the light somehow in prison and no longer wanted to do this. He made a vow to himself. In fact, he had to fight to refuse parole. He said that if the state said that they felt 10 years for what he did was sufficient, then that is what he would do. This man served the full 10 years and he had to fight because they wanted him out.
I spoke to him when all of this started coming up. He has never applied for a pardon. He said: ``I have paid my debt to society. I have nothing to hide.'' He said, ``What a pardon does, it will say ``pardon,'' but your record is never gone; it is there.'' He said, ``I would rather that people know what I did and be able to address what I did.'' If they want to hire me, that is great; if they do not, I understand that. That is the debt and burden I will probably always have to pay.''
That is his attitude. He has never sought a pardon, nor ever would. He has been out for 35 or 40 years now. I just thought I would put that out as an experience.
Senator Angus: Thank you. I think the point was made. The only thing I would suggest, Mr. Chair, as I have been wrestling with this issue, is that ``pardon'' is probably the wrong word. We are not talking about forgiveness but about a record expunging so that certain other things can happen. Do you agree with that?
Mr. Wamback: I agree 100 per cent.
Senator Lang: Thanks to the witnesses for taking the time to come here and the courage to impart what has happened to you personally in one manner or another. I cannot imagine what you have gone through.
One area that I would like to centre in on is the question of the poll that was done according to the process that was undertaken to see if the user fees were acceptable or not. When I first looked at the results of that poll, I found it hard to believe there were only 12 Canadians who had an opposite view to the thousand who said that the user fees were not acceptable. I thought, ``I am number 13; is there anyone else out there?''
I am concerned about the manipulation of the system. I think I can use that word. I do not think it is too strong. Individuals like yourselves have taken the time and the effort, and paid a heavy cost to do what you are doing. You were not directly contacted and informed and asked for your opinions. From your perspective, is there a secret list that one gets on so that they get the phone call to be part of the poll?
Perhaps all three of you may want to express your observations and, perhaps, give us some sense of what has to change here so that if we are to go out and ask for public opinion, it is done in a balanced way. Would you like to comment on that?
Ms. Rosenfeldt: I would totally agree with that. On the flip side, if there is anything to do in relation to victims of crime, I would hope that the people on the offender side — that is their role, and that is good. They need that. I would hope that the people who work on the offender side — John Howard, Elizabeth Fry, Salvation Army, Corrections, St. Leonard's, all of them — would be notified too, because they work amongst each other. They are all funded and organized. When this user fee for the pardon comes up, it gets the support of many offender organizations. There are probably 40 of them. I do not have a problem with that, but the problem comes back to what Senator Runciman brought up in the beginning: There is no funding for us, so there is no way that we are able to ever be as organized as they are in relation to the issues that need to be addressed.
I am not so sure how that would work. I think it is simple. I think it is better access to having people recognize that victims of crime organizations are an integral part of the criminal justice system today and, for the bureaucrats inside who are making decisions on whom to fund, that we do play a very important role, just as John Howard and Elizabeth Fry. We are not there yet. I ask you to take a look at that and bring it up. We are meeting afterwards about this whole situation. It has to end, because it is so embarrassing to have, in Canada, a consultation process that is in the newspapers, that says 1,047 people do not support this and there are only 12 who do. That is really wrong. It has been manipulated big-time.
The Chair: Would anyone else care to comment?
Mr. Wamback: Senators, thank you very much. I thank you for that and for your observation. That is so correct. The fact that there were only 1,047 surprises me. Not only are there 40 agencies, but every city in this country that has a courthouse has a John Howard or Elizabeth Fry Society office, so there are thousands of them coast to coast. We were not notified. Why is beyond me. I am as vocal as anyone in this country with respect to victims' rights. I am known in the justice ministry and in public safety. I do not know why we were not notified. That in itself is a huge injustice, and we need to make change.
Lozanne Wamback, Director, Co-Founder, Canadian Crime Victim Foundation: We are easy to find and everyone emails us, yet we never got any information about this survey.
Mr. Wamback: We receive over 8,000 emails a year from victims. People know who we are and what we do.
Mr. Kennedy: I think it has been covered.
Senator Lang: A further follow-up on the allocation of these millions of dollars that are going out to those non- profit organizations, which are providing a service to the offenders, and a much-needed service. However, I do have a concern that was brought to my attention, namely, that some of them are becoming very politically active, with taxpayers' money, indirect or direct, in opposing the ongoing legislation that is before the House of Commons and that eventually will be in the Senate.
If these organizations choose to become politically active and try to organize outside the purview of what their organizations have been set up to do, do you think we should continue to fund them?
Mr. Wamback: Let me answer that. The rules of the charities directorate are very clear. I would like to leave it at that.
Ms. Rosenfeldt: Senator, that is a tough call, because a lot of them do a lot of good work. The best we can do is say there must be balance. No one can tell me that on this new bill, the omnibus bill, which we all support and all appeared with the minister on — we know it will cost money in prison expansion. We totally support it. However, no one can tell us that just because that is happening, the government will not be responsive to taking a look at this, but not necessarily at the expense of all of those other organizations on the offenders' side that do a lot of good work. I know many of them and I get along well with them. We are just asking for a study and to have some balance to bring us up to par with them, not necessarily take away their funding. That was never the intent of our organization nor, I believe, any crime victim organization, namely to take down one at the expense of another.
Senator Fraser: This is more of a comment. I think you make some useful distinctions, Ms. Rosenfeldt. It would occur to me, Senator Lang, that we need, all of us, to be very careful about what we consider to be political. It is easy to consider that someone who does not agree with me is taking a political position, but someone who does agree with me is simply commenting on a matter of public interest.
It seems to me that whether they are volunteer groups or people who receive funding — and I agree that victims' organizations should get funding, although I gather you have said ``no,'' Ms. Rosenfeldt — they are all commenting on the basis of their experience on matters of great public interest. These witnesses all favour the proposal before us. The witnesses we heard yesterday did not. I think all of their viewpoints are equally legitimate, and I do not consider them political.
Senator Lang: In deference to myself, I should have the opportunity to respond. I just want to make this point. I defend anyone's right to put their position forward and to come before a hearing of this kind. What I do start to question is when you are starting a campaign, as organizations, outside the purview of their organizations, trying to draw support against legislative measures that are coming into the house, and the taxpayers paying for it. I defend anyone's right to have a campaign. That is my point.
The Chair: Senators, again, we are here to hear evidence from the witnesses, if we could restrict ourselves to that. I know there is a lot of emotion around this, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. However, if we could restrict ourselves to the witnesses, it would be much appreciated.
We are getting close to the point of having to move to our next panel.
Senator Banks: Thank you, panel. As others have said before me, we all owe you a great debt for coming here. Thank you very much for that.
I will address my question to Mr. Wamback, although I think others could all answer it. You said, sir, that there should not be a differentiation between respecting the severity of a crime that is being dealt with. There is already a line. If we are talking about a hierarchical level of severity of crime, there is already a line above which no pardon can be granted. You mentioned homicide, for example. I think I am correct in saying that in the case of homicide, no pardon can be granted.
What we heard yesterday from Mr. Bérard was that he thought — and I understand this and I think I kind of agree with it — that there is a right in the present system to apply for a pardon but that the receiving the granting of it is a privilege. It is a right to apply but a privilege to get. I like what Senator Angus said about the nomenclature. It is a semantic argument, but it is not a pardon in any sense of the word. It is not forgiveness in any sense of the word but an expunging of the record so other things can happen.
Would you think, Mr. Wamback, and maybe Mr. Kennedy, the line that is there now that says above this line you have no right to apply for a pardon, should the line be moved downward in the hierarchy of severity of crime?
Mr. Kennedy: For me, I know where that line is not today, with the sex offenders. They are able to apply for a pardon. Absolutely, that line needs to be moved. That protects all our youth organizations. We know the reoffending percentage with these individuals. The ability for them to heal is next to none, if any. That line definitely needs to move. I do not believe that sex offenders against our children should ever be pardoned. That protects our youth organizations.
As for the word ``pardon,'' it is a little bothersome. To me, it is a record suspension. It is a privilege. It is not a right. Yes, everyone has the right to apply, but it seemed that everyone who used to apply used to get one. To me, the bar needs to move up in certain areas.
Mr. Wamback: I agree with Mr. Kennedy. Just as a clarification, homicide is a pardonable offence if it is manslaughter. Today, we are seeing courts imposing minimal sentences for involuntary homicide — manslaughter. We are seeing plea bargains, where manslaughter is an acceptable plea. Should it go to court, maybe the answers would be somewhat different. A line definitely has to be drawn.
Senator Banks: In a different place than it is now?
Mr. Wamback: Yes, currently, and I agree with Mr. Kennedy and I also agree with acts of extreme violence. In society we have to deal with psychopaths who may not have committed what would be considered a position of record suspension, but a record suspension of someone who is psychopathic will allow them opportunities that perhaps they should not be allowed.
I am saying that it needs to be greater than it is now. There needs to be greater accountability for those who will seek and will be effectively rehabilitated, and then the record suspension is a viable option in Canadian society. For those who have taken a life, who have committed the ultimate crime against society, I do not believe there should be any record suspensions available.
Senator Chaput: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I would like to start off by saying that the discussion at Senate committees is currently one of the great strengths of the Senate of Canada, since we receive witnesses who explain and make us see their side of the coin, given that there are always two sides of the coin. What struck me today, especially since I have mixed views and I believe that criminals are responsible for their acts and that there is always a price to pay — That is what I have always believed. Mr. Kennedy, what struck me this morning is when you said:
``It is part of their rehabilitation.''
I agree with you, Mr. Kennedy. But I have an idea. What would you say if, from the $630 that a criminal pays to the federal government, the federal government takes $500, for example, and puts it towards a Canadian foundation for victims?
The criminal would still pay some $600 or more, but the federal government would decide that $100, as an example, is put towards the building of a foundation to help the victims. What would you think of that?
Mr. Kennedy: I totally support that. Listening to Mr. Wamback and Ms. Rosenfeldt, there needs to be a balance for funds going back to victims' organizations. However that looks and whatever that looks like, I totally support that. I think the $631 is really, when we see that, it kind of gets the hair on the back of my neck standing up, the fact of why am I supporting someone to get a pardon? I do not think it has to do with the $631 here, because it is not a huge expense. It does not matter where we are in the work field.
I absolutely agree with the fact that we need to pay attention to the victims' side of this. I am all about working hard to get out of being a victim, but I do believe that we are starting to see, as a country, the damage, the trauma that criminals have and their victims who are left with this trauma has on society and the cost that has. We see that with our young people every day. Somehow we need to support that. When something happens to these kids or these kids get in trouble, we are in the process of building a child advocacy centre, and I am learning lots with the chief of police in Calgary. When these kids come in, who have been abused or a victim of crime, and we can deal with them and investigate that properly and then immediately start turning their lives around, it will help reduce the number of people going into our prison system. Anything we can do to handle and deal with and support the victims' side of this is huge. As a country, I think we understand more the damage that abuse, bullying crime has. I think we have a long way to go, but whatever it looks like I support that, however that money gets in there.
Senator Chaput: This question is for Ms. Rosenfeldt.
My only concern once again has to do with Aboriginal clients. If I understood correctly, you said that you had previously worked in a centre that was helping with the rehabilitation process, encouraging criminals to take charge of their lives and recognize that they have a responsibility to work for a pardon, to get a job, and so on. Madam, could you give me some reassurance as far as these clients are concerned, since I think they will be getting even less support through this bill?
I would like to know more of your ideas on that matter.
Ms. Rosenfeldt: To begin, my views may be a little bit different than those of other Aboriginal people. My whole family is Aboriginal. My grandmother was from a reserve in Saskatchewan. It is probably about time that we as a society, including the Aboriginal people, stop looking at us because we are Aboriginal, because we have high cheekbones, that we are a people that cannot think for ourselves, cannot do things for ourselves.
We have come a long way. I do not want to get into the whole history, because I know it has been traumatic and tragic for many people. However, today we have so many more Aboriginal people, thank God, being educated. We have people such as me who understand the Aboriginal problems. I had so many clients who had come from the residential school. They were older victims but the damage was huge. There is so much that has to be done. I really think it is time that we start holding our head up high and taking some responsibility.
I was offended when I was looking at whether I was able to become a lawyer. This was a number of years ago, and it never materialized. Someone said, ``Why not do it? It is all paid for, including your books. Not only that, but all you have to do is get a 60 per cent average, where others have to get 80 per cent.'' I took exception. I said, ``What? Society does not think I am smart enough to be able to achieve 80 per cent?''
There are all kinds of different views on this. This is huge. Not every Aboriginal person would agree with me, but there are many Aboriginal people who do. I think Aboriginal people in this $631 definitely is not a hardship for them.
The Chair: Senator Runciman, do you have a question on the second round?
Senator Runciman: Just a brief question for both Mr. Wamback and Ms. Rosenfeldt.
I had expressed some concern about treating all offenders in the same manner. I guess you have no difficulty with that; at least that is how I understand your response today. However, I could see this as a two-tier approach and I am talking about summary convictions versus indictable. There was a clear indication from the board folks that the indictable offences take a significant amount of time and consideration, whereas if you are dealing with a DUI, for example, or something very modest, it seems to me that it could be determined that, in terms of summary and average cost to deal with a summary offence versus an average cost to deal with an indictable, I believe in capturing the real costs and being fair in the way we approach it. As you say, we would not want victims subsidizing offenders. I think we should do that but it should be done in a fair way.
That is my only concern with the approach here, that we recognize the real costs and that we capture the real costs and not paint everybody with the same brush.
Mr. Wamback: I agree in principle that we have to recapture the cost. The cost for this process should not be a burden on the taxpayer. I do not believe that it should be a two-tier process.
My cousin just passed away last week. Her surviving family is on social assistance. The surviving family has to pay service fees for the funeral. It amounts to thousands of dollars. These are service fees. This is not the cost of the funeral; this is not to do with that.
I believe that those who are seeking this pardon, this record suspension — and I will change my vernacular now — should be responsible for the costs of it. If a pardon has value, whether it is indictable or whether it is a summary conviction, that pardon has value and it should not be the responsibility of the Canadian people to subsidize it, regardless of the crime. We as a country and we as a government will establish what the boundaries are, and where that bar will be and that is the line. It should all be the same cost.
If I could address one our issue from Senator Chaput, which is the victims' fund and should the $631 be allocated to victims. We currently have a process in place in Canada called the Victim Justice Fund. It is a victim fine surcharge that should be imposed by judges across this country, but judges across this country are refusing to impose victim fine surcharges, and the reason they are is because provincial governments put this money into general revenues and it never gets out to victims. We need to fix the system that is already in place. I do not believe we need to burden Canadian taxpayers even more by putting money into a system that already exists.
Senator Fraser: Mr. Kennedy, I believe you have referred to statistics on recidivism by sexual offenders. If you have those statistics, could you forward them to the clerk, please? I do not think I have them.
Mr. Kennedy: Yes, I will get them to her.
Senator Banks: I guess I am taking up Senator Runciman's argument, Mr. Wamback, and maybe you can answer this later because we are stuck for time, but Senator Runciman's point was not that there should not be full cost recovery. His point is that the cost of research for a summary conviction, and the expunging of that record, is in fact less than the cost of the research that it takes in to come to a conclusion that someone who has committed an indictable expense ought to have their record expunged. He was not talking about not recovering the full cost. He was talking about the fact that the costs are different for those two things. Do you agree with that?
Mr. Wamback: Thank you, Senator Banks. I misunderstood Senator Runciman's statement. In that light, yes, I do agree with that, absolutely. Thank you.
Ms. Rosenfeldt: I agree with that as well. I misunderstood that as well.
The Chair: It is always good to have Senator Banks doing clean-up.
Mr. Wamback: It is amazing what a bit of clarity will do.
The Chair: It shows the teamwork around the table.
Colleagues, that concludes the questions of this panel and the presentations. It probably understates it to say how personal we know what you have had to say is to each of you. It is very powerful and extremely useful for our work. We thank you so much. I suspect, as other bills work their way through this committee, we may have the pleasure of having you back again and hope that would you come.
Thank you once again.
We have before us as our last witness today, from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Mr. Gregory Thomas, Federal Director. We are happy to have you here, Mr. Thomas. If you have an opening comment, we are anxious to hear it.
Gregory Thomas, Federal Director, Canadian Taxpayers Federation: Thank you, Mr. Chair and senators. I represent the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. We are Canada's largest taxpayer advocacy group. We are a non-profit, non-partisan organization with 70,000 supporters and seven offices across Canada.
We are here today because we support, in general terms, the principle of users paying for services that directly benefit them. While we acknowledge that there is a benefit to society at large from offenders obtaining pardons, we also believe that the cost of doing the necessary investigation in providing a pardon should fall upon the individual who receives the pardon.
In reviewing the documentation and some of the other testimony relating to the committee's work, I first want to say a word for the private consultants who seem to be getting a bit of a rough ride in these hearings. The notion that private consultants earn $1,000 for assisting people with obtaining a pardon strikes some as objectionable. I, too, have downloaded the government's handy 18-page guide to obtaining a pardon. There is no way I would do this myself. There is just no way.
Senator Fraser: It is like doing one's income taxes.
Mr. Thomas: Yes. Senator Baker was pondering why it is that half of the submissions from Newfoundlanders get returned. I have been in Newfoundland a couple of times and I have noted that they have a lower tolerance threshold for BS than the rest of us have when it comes to running around and collecting official documents. It actually says on the website to make sure that the document has the official stamp from the court on it, and what have you. The notion that the justice system can actually throw a person in jail for a number of years and not keep track of it and the notion that the Parole Board cannot seamlessly interact with the justice system and find out what crimes the person actually did commit, in addition to trying to rebuild their lives and hold down a job and support a family with a criminal record, and then run around from court to court and to get things stamped or their papers will get returned, is an objectionable burden on these people. It is fair to ask them to pay for the costs associated with investigating their history, but I think it is reasonable to ask the justice system to get its act together and have the complete file on the person. That is what all these advanced systems are supposed to be about. There is a cost associated with having the system, but this business of running around and getting papers and ensuring they are stamped should be turfed from this process.
There are a couple of essay questions in the package. People are asked to explain why they think they deserve a pardon and provide any other information. That is all legitimate. If the government got its act together, then all of these consultants probably would be out of business. As it stands, these consultants are like income tax preparers who learn the system, learn how to run around, learn how to collect documents and learn how to put the package together. It is hard work and people deserve to get paid for their work.
My second observation relates to a couple of quibbles that I have with the costing in the proposal in the document from the Minister of Public Safety dated June 2011. My package does not have page numbers, but there is a table of all the costs. In the current year, the application processing cost is $6 million and the pardon decision-making cost is $1.1 million. Then you have program support, other government departments, and so on. The Mounties get a measly $225,000 for arguably the most critical element of the process — the criminal record.
The rationale for jumping the fee from $50 to $150 to $631 is that we are asking people to do some intellectual heavy lifting, assess criminal records, and write detailed reports and everything. This does not show up in the decision-making element of the cost. Everything seems to relate to ``processing'' the application.
In my examination of this committee's work so far, I do not think that anyone has really held the bureaucracy's feet to the fire as to why the processing aspect of all this is $6 million, while deciding whether people will go out and hurt someone again is only $1.1 million. It does not make a lot of sense from where I sit.
Footnote 4 refers to non-recoverable costs that will not be included in the fee.
Senator Runciman: I wonder if the clerk of the committee could direct us to the page number. I have a copy and I am trying to find the reference.
Shaila Anwar, Clerk of the Committee: Non-recoverable costs can be found at page 6.
Mr. Thomas: I think you have a more detailed package. Footnote 4 refers to non-recoverable costs, which are not included in the fee. The bottom line is the revenue elements, and in each case they exceed the subtotal of recoverable costs, which appears part way down the table. It is obviously calculated so that the volume of applications at $631 exceeds the recoverable costs. As well, there is a $1.4 million non-recoverable cost item, which presumably the taxpayers will pick up the tab for.
The footnote explains that this includes the benefit plans — health, dental, disability, pension — for the employees who are doing the work and the rent from public works for the building where everyone will sit to process these applications. Why on earth these are not factored into the cost baffles me. It makes no sense. You will cover the salaries of the people doing the work but not their benefits. I guess that is government accounting; no wonder we are running a deficit.
The Chair: We understand the point.
Mr. Thomas: On the structure of the proposal, we are also troubled by the idea that a variety of different services are being charged the same flat fee. The idea that you pay the same amount of money for a checkup as you pay for open-heart surgery or pay the same amount of money for a modest car like a Toyota Corolla as you pay for a Mercedes or a Cadillac makes no sense. The $6-million processing number is confusing.
The Parole Board would stick its neck out by granting a pardon to a person who has committed a serious crime and has injured people or whose past behaviour has caused huge societal damage. There would be a thorough investigation. A responsible person would have to give it a lot of thought and thoroughly justify a decision. That will cost a lot of money. For some of the offences that Senator Runciman was describing, none of that will go on. We do not agree that the costing set out here accurately captures what it will actually cost.
The Chair: Mr. Thomas, are you suggesting a graduated scale, as Senator Runciman referred to? Depending on the severity of the crime, there would be a scale of charges and associated costs with a pardon application.
Mr. Thomas: Yes. We do not believe it is too tough to quantify this. I think a cost accountant would look at the costing in this package and they would have a lot of problems with it. We think you should ask for a more realistic appraisal of what it actually costs to process different pardon applications under the proposed legislation; and the fees should be adjusted to reflect the actual costs.
My final point relates to the 4 per cent of pardons granted that are revoked and the risks that that poses to society. There is no question that having your criminal record removed is a tremendous benefit if you are an honest, law- abiding, reformed citizen. It is an astronomical benefit if you are a criminal anxious to get out there, get back into business and really do some serious damage. We all buy car insurance. As we have more accidents and hurt more people, the insurance gets more and more expensive. I guess in an ideal world we would buy murder insurance and if the one in 10,000 or 50,000 of us goes out and murders someone, the victim could be compensated from that fund. It is what you call an uninsurable risk; there is no way to address it. I would argue that amongst convicted criminals who have a history of hurting people and damaging property, you could create a pretty nice insurance fund through this process if you added a surcharge of $100 or $200 to the fee. Then, in the event that someone in this pool of pardoned offenders made someone a paraplegic or removed the sole source of support for a family of young children, there would be a fund in place to compensate the victim. You could call it the ``pardon parole system screw-up fund.'' It would actually be acknowledged that of the 10,000 pardoned that year, 50 of them went out and did some damage and the victims are being paid from the fund charged to people who obtain pardons.
Like any other insurance fund or mutual fund, you can return the funds in the event that there are no problems. A cheque can be mailed back to the people who have the pardons with the comment: ``The program has been so successful, we are pleased to send you $138 as a refund because we have never had to make a payment.''
The Chair: That is a very interesting idea. We have had others allude to something similar; that is very helpful.
Is there anything further as relates to this application that you would like to add?
Mr. Thomas: No, those are our comments.
The Chair: Thank you.
Senator Fraser: Mr. Thomas, your organization has a healthy interest in seeing that taxpayers get value for money. A fair amount of the discussion here has been in connection with people who run social assistance and the benefits, both societal and personal, of getting a pardon to help people get a job and get off social assistance. Social assistance costs money. Virtually all of it is a provincial responsibility, but it all comes out of our pockets one way or another. It costs a lot more than $631 per recipient.
What would you think of a system that would parallel something like the student loan whereby people who are on social assistance or close to it could get a loan from the government to pay the pardon fee that would be payable back over the next year or two years, assuming that the pardon enabled them to get a job. Would that be worth exploring?
Mr. Thomas: Yes, certainly it is worth having a look at and testing. You may want to look at a pilot project for it.
Senator Runciman: I appreciate your appearance here today. It is very interesting. I have not had an opportunity to go through this, and I do not profess to understand how they arrive at some of these costing figures. You have expressed concern about whether or not this is a true costing. You have drawn attention to some facts here.
I am reading this other document, which is talking about building into this — it is sort of a cost-benefit analysis, not a true costing of what transpires in terms of the process; they are building into this an estimated value to the pardon applicant as part of this as well.
I have been concerned from the outset about this. I believe in full cost recovery, but I am not sure we have an accurate costing in front of us or an adequate justification for what they have done here.
I am attracted to your suggestion that this should go back to the drawing board for someone to look at how this was costed and perhaps conduct a new costing. From your organization's perspective, what is your definition of true cost recovery? Should a value to pardon applicants be built into that?
To me, it should be the agency, the costs they are absorbing to process that individual's application to go in or out the door. That is cost. To try to determine some estimated value to an applicant is pretty airy-fairy and subjective and should not be part of this. That is my view. What is yours?
Mr. Thomas: We agree with you on the actual dollars-and-cents cost of running the program; what is the difference? If there were no pardons given out and no pardon process is carried on, what does it cost the government to run the process for a year? That is the actual cost.
Senator Runciman: Right. I have one other quick question. One of our witnesses yesterday, from one of the companies that assist applicants, spoke about a public-private partnership. He will get the committee some information; apparently this does occur in other jurisdictions. Do you have a view on that, anything you might want to offer the committee with respect to that concept?
Mr. Thomas: We are always enthusiastic; if anything the government is doing can be done better in the private sector, we are open to it. With something like this, it is all about the details and the practicalities of how the system would run.
I believe that the real challenge is the government's own information systems as they relate to criminal offence — the idea that the Parole Board does not have an accurate record of what crime someone committed.
Senator Runciman: In my own experience, that is a black hole. We went through that in Ontario and it was cut off at some point, because certain elements of the justice system worked fine but once you got into the court system, it seemed to bog down and money went out the window. I share your view with respect to that, but it is a heck of a challenge.
The Chair: Mr. Thomas, I have a supplemental on Senator Runciman's comment. You are of the view that the fee should represent the actual cost to the system. That seems logical. However, I think to arrive at an actual cost, assumptions have to be made. The Parole Board, as I understand it, has made certain assumptions as to how they would allocate costs within the system and decide what properly belongs within the pardon application process and what does not. I think anyone would have to go through that same process, would they not?
I can think of all the direct and indirect costs that are built into the system, from employee costs to overheads. How do you allocate that, especially when those costs relate to more than the granting of pardons? I am sure rolled into that is a lot of general justice administration costs.
Obviously, assumptions would have to be made. There may be disagreement on those assumptions, but it is not as simple a matter as saying that only the real costs, the actual costs, should be reflected in the pardon application fee. It is not a simple process, is it? It is dependent upon those assumptions.
Mr. Thomas: Yes. I think the point Senator Runciman was making is if we are netting some general benefit to the pardon recipients against the actual cost to the public, then you have to challenge that element of it — the idea that there are benefits to recipients and those benefits might be subtracted from the costs that are being incurred by the taxpayers. We agree that would not be a valid way to go.
Obviously, when you are looking at allocating costs, you allocate costs and you get a price tag. Our concern is a one- size-fits-all price tag of $631, no matter what it costs to render a decision on that application; we do not think that meets the test of common sense. It clearly does not cost the same amount to reach decisions on each of these cases.
The Chair: Not to be argumentative, but I suspect that approach is consistent generally with fees that are charged by government for services provided to the general public. They tend to have one price for everyone, regardless of whether it is passport applications or whatever. Some may be more involved than others and take more work and incur greater costs. I would think that is probably consistent with the overall approach, but that is perhaps for another day.
Senator Meredith: On the costing, Mr. Thomas, you are advocating that we should have a sliding scale based on the type of convictions, whether they are summary convictions or others. Regarding the costing that is allocated to individuals — the staffing, the housing of that staff, and now you referred to it also as the benefits — how can you justify that in terms of the amount that the Parole Board has said is their full cost recovery?
Are you advocating there should be two types of individuals processing these pardon applications within the Parole Board? In terms of the sliding scale of costing, would there be a junior individual for convictions that are not as great that would be processed in that particular application, and then someone more seasoned or senior that would spend more time in processing a more serious conviction application?
Can you elaborate on the sliding scale for me?
Mr. Thomas: Sure. If you look at the history of this fee increase, the rationale for it is that with Bill C-23A's passing, the process for deciding parole applications has become more complicated because the legislation now mandates a more thorough investigation, that more things be taken into consideration, more thought be given to the application and longer reports be written.
From my reading of the history, the Parole Board instituted this because they said with the new legislation, it is a lot harder to make these decisions; it is consuming a lot more of their resources, taking more time and they are falling behind. There is a big backlog that is costing a lot of money and they have a problem, so they want their fees increased. The issue lands in your lap now.
I am saying that some files do take a lot longer to work on than others, based on the evidence from the officials in the public service department.
Senator Meredith: This could inadvertently go into cost overruns. If you have a certain amount of cases that take less time, but others, as alluded to by Senator Runciman, that take more time, it sort of equals out in the long run. They have come up with the $631 figure, saying this is our full cost recovery. We may go over or we may go under, but we are still trying to deal with backlogs and so forth.
Mr. Thomas: Yes. If you have someone who has a manslaughter conviction and the legislation says you have to take into account the impact on victims and the details of the crime, you basically have to go back and run the trial all over again. Then you grant this person a pardon and they may go out and kill someone again, compared to something like an impaired driving conviction or a pot possession charge.
One thing costs way more than the other. Investigating, trying and convicting this person costs the system a lot more than the pot possession charge did. You have two separate messes on your hand that cost two separate kinds of money and they have drastic ramifications — the effects on the victims are different.
I do not think there is anything wrong with looking at the pardon application for the person who has a manslaughter conviction — who may still be associating with people who were around when that manslaughter conviction occurred and who may have a complicated life — and saying this is a $3000 pardon application. That is what our experience is. It will take X number of people working these many hours to reach a decision in your particular case. Your trial cost $100,000 and this pardon process will cost $3000, not $600. Similarly, for the person with the pot possession conviction in 1979, maybe $600 is a little steep for what the person is asking.
The Chair: Colleagues, we are all aware we are well beyond our scheduled time, but it is important, and we are fortunate to have Mr. Thomas here. Four other senators are anxious to question Mr. Thomas; but at one o'clock we will have to conclude because we have to prepare to go to chamber this afternoon, so please govern yourselves accordingly.
Senator Banks: We heard yesterday that the calculation of the cost was not based on the cost but rather the ability to pay. There is that notional element in it of trying to quantify the value of having a record expunged, so that is questionable.
I like Mr. Thomas's idea of saying how much money would we not be spending if we were not doing this process? That would be the answer of the cost. I do not know whether you can find that out or not.
I want to ask you a philosophical or principled question about what you said — that users should pay directly for services that benefit them. In that light, considering the fact that the application for expunging a criminal record is a service provided by the government, the government announced a little while ago that it was substantially reducing the cost of applying for immigration into Canada, recognizing the societal value of having people come here. Assuming that cost was arrived at by some rational means, the taxpayer will now subsidize the cost for immigration applicants to Canada.
Will you complain about that to the government, assuming that you would complain if we were suggesting here that the public should subsidize the cost of an application to expunge a criminal record? I am making that assumption.
Mr. Thomas: I will pass on that question because we do like to do a little bit of homework and give some serious thought to these things when we are invited to spend time with you. I think I know what the answer is, but I would like to read up on what the government is proposing and consult with my colleagues to have a more considered response. I would rather not touch the immigration issue today.
Senator Banks: In this case, the government is proposing to end what has been, up to this point, a subsidy of the cost to an applicant for expunging a criminal record. They are ending it by saying: No, we will not subsidize it anymore. We will recover the cost. Are you in favour of full cost recovery?
Mr. Thomas: Yes. We generally believe that people should pay for the things they are buying. When government is providing a service like a driver's licence, the 407 road in Ontario or a faster ride over the Fraser River in Vancouver — whatever the case may be — the people that are directly benefiting from that should pay for it.
Senator Lang: I want to go back to the information that we have been provided, that the estimates are 15,000 individuals per year apply for a pardon. That works out to 30 pardons a day; on an eight-hour day, it means you are giving three every hour. My concern is our capability to accomplish this.
I am wondering what your comments would be if the government, at a later date, were to take a hard look at this and follow the premise that Senator Runciman has put forward, to perhaps make an automatic pardon available for those with summary convictions, with some terms and conditions, and then deal with the remainder of the requests accordingly. In other words, what you might see are 5,000 applications — I think it is 30 per cent that are summary — that would be automatically dealt with at very little cost to government, and the balance would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Perhaps then we could meet the obligations that the legislation is requiring the Parole Board to do.
The other aspect that I am concerned with — and you may want to comment — is that the more you start differentiating categories, the more it costs and the more time it takes to try to differentiate. Eventually what was supposed to be a cost-recovery program is costing you more.
I would like to hear your comments on that. My concern is once you look at the numbers here, I do not know how you achieve what you are trying to achieve within a year.
Mr. Thomas: Did you say within a year?
Senator Lang: Yes, they are expecting 15,000 applications per year. This is not uncommon, or at least that is the information we have.
Mr. Thomas: I do not have the experience or the knowledge that Senator Runciman has. You cannot replace the experience of running the public safety operations of the Province of Ontario for a number of years. He has forgotten more than most of us will ever collectively know about it.
However, as a member of the public, the idea of people being convicted of criminal offences and then having these things drop into oblivion as an automatic function concerns me.
The Chair: You said that concerns you?
Mr. Thomas: Yes. It is a freaking crime. We put stuff in the Criminal Code because they are crimes, and I think most Canadians would find disturbing the idea that people go out and do them and then a clock ticks and it just never happens.
I have not been responsible for directing the operation of the entire law enforcement system the way the senator has, but many of my friends are cops. I do know that when they are searching for people they suspect of serious crimes, people who are leading disordered lives and getting convicted of ``minor'' crimes are usually the candidates that they pursue. We all know what a crime is. Very few people commit crimes by accident. When there is a pattern of disturbing small crimes, it generally indicates a bigger problem. The idea that these things would just automatically disappear and that information would no longer be available is troubling.
The Chair: Thank you for that answer.
Senator Lang: For the record, they do have a system like this in Australia to take care of that type of crime that is seen as more important to the general public than others. I would assume it is to move the system along, in part.
Mr. Thomas: You would have to note that the founders of Australia arrived in Australia by a different means than the founders of Canada did.
The Chair: You led with your chin on that one.
Senator Lang: I will not pursue that.
The Chair: Wise decision.
Senator Chaput: Mr. Thomas, you talked about some stages that hinder the process. You said that the process should be simplified, in terms of documents and everything it entails. We are currently talking about transferring all the costs to those who apply for a pardon. Should we not review the process instead and simplify it before transferring the costs?
Mr. Thomas: This is a process that should be simplified and streamlined, and I really think that the amount of running around involved in filling out this package is unconscionable. I am down with the Newfoundlanders on that. However, we are here to address a proposal that the government has brought forward arising from legislation. In a perfect world, they would also look at making this process a little more straightforward for everyone.
Our organization, in principle, believes in user paying. We think this fits as a genuine service. As I say, we quarrel with the pricing. We do not like the accounting or the way it has been priced out. We do not think it is fair. We do not think the market would price things this way. Generally speaking, however, we think it is a positive step, which is not to say that making this process more straightforward would not also be a positive step.
The Chair: Mr. Thomas, that concludes our questions. I truly want to thank you for what you brought to this committee today. Your professional comments around cost accounting were very interesting, as you could see from the questions asked, as well as your views on the broader issues around this parole board application. Those were illuminating as well. We hope to see you back sometime in the future again.
Colleagues, just before you leave, our next meeting will be Wednesday, October 19, at 4:15, or whenever the Senate rises. The clerk will send out a notice at that time. Thank you once again. This meeting is adjourned.
(The committee adjourned.)