The Liberal government has introduced a bill to make it easier for people found guilty of most crimes to receive a pardon — but, much like another government attempt to reform the criminal justice system, Bill C-31 faces long odds of passing.
C-31, which Public Safety Minister Bill Blair tabled in the House of Commons on Thursday, would amend the Criminal Records Act to make Canada’s pardons system closer to the way it was before prime minister Stephen Harper’s government made pardons harder to get.
The changes the Liberals propose would allow people with summary convictions, which are minor crimes, to apply for a pardon after three years. Someone with a summary conviction currently has to wait five years before applying for a pardon.
For people prosecuted for an indictable offence, which is a more serious crime, Bill C-31 would allow them to seek a pardon after five years, rather than the current 10 years.
C-31 would also make it impossible for someone convicted of terrorism to ever be pardoned.
“(C-31’s changes) will prioritize public safety, but they will also help people reintegrate into society,” Blair told reporters. “They will create a fairer system for all Canadians.”
After it was tabled, both Blair and Bardish Chagger, the minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth, described C-31 as “important.”
But in order to pass through the normal legislative process, the bill is facing a stacked deck. Speculation is rife that a federal election will be called in the fall, spelling the end of this Parliament. If that happens, all existing bills and their progress will be erased.
Signs of a fall election include: This Parliament will have surpassed the average length of time a minority government holds power; Canada is expected to have largely emerged from the pandemic by September, which MPs have unanimously agreed must be the case before Canadians are sent the polls; and the governing Liberals have activated special party rules to prepare for a vote.
Furthermore, only nine sitting days — less than two weeks — remain before the House breaks for its summer recess, which it plans to do on June 23. Within that time, Government House leader Pablo Rodriguez has said the Liberals will focus on passing bills to: ban conversion therapy (C-6); modify the Broadcasting Act (C-10); and set limits on greenhouse-gas emissions (C-12).
Even with the government trying to extend House sitting hours for the next week and a half, there will be almost no time for C-31 to be debated, studied, and voted through the chamber — not to mention the same process in the Senate, which also intends to rise for the summer in the next few weeks.
Bill C-22, which Blair introduced in February, likely faces a similar fate. It would impose lighter sentences for certain drug offences, and remove some mandatory-minimum sentencing penalties that disproportionately affect Indigenous and Black Canadians. C-22 hasn’t made it past first reading in the House.
Together, C-31 and C-22 represent the Liberal government’s attempt to fulfill the legislative parts of promises it made in last September’s speech from the throne to reduce systemic racism.
Asked on Thursday by iPolitics how he squares the government’s promises to fight racism with its failure to prioritize bills like C-31 and C-22, Blair said he still believes they’re “important measures.”
“We’ve made commitments to Canadians that we will bring forward appropriate legislation we believe (will) make a real difference for Canadians,” Blair said.
“In particular, in the removal of systemic and structural racism within the criminal-justice system and in many other aspects of our society, so we’re focused on getting that work done,” he continued. “We’ve introduced this legislation now, (and) I’m very hopeful that Parliament will turn its attention to it and deal with it quickly.”
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