The Pardon Society of Canada Appears At The Senate Committee Hearing On The Pardon User Fee
On Wednesday October 5, 2011, the standing Senate Committee heard testimony by select witnesses in favor or against the proposed Pardon User Fee Increase. The Pardon Society, and one of its accredited members – Express Pardons Canada – were selected to speak to the Senate committee. Here is the presentation given by Ainsley Muller, Chairman of the Pardon Society of Canada:
Ladies and Gentlemen: Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today regarding the proposed pardon fee increase, and to be able to represent the one in seven adult Canadians with Criminal Records .
My name is Ainsley Muller, I am here representing both Express Pardons Inc. and The Pardon Society of Canada, two of many organizations and individuals that overwhelmingly oppose the fee increase. While we support a fee increase, we strongly oppose the fee increase as it has been tabled, but do support the recommendations made by the independent advisory panel which addresses the same issues in a more reasonable fashion, that don’t hurt the most vulnerable Canadians.
A little background: Express Pardons was conceived out of a desire to be Canada’s best Pardon Service, and was founded with the singular vision to do things better. To be clear, the majority of people we represent have minor offences and are seeking a pardon that will allow them to continue to be a productive member of society.
Express Pardons is a founding member of the Pardon Society of Canada, which was established with three guiding principles:
1. To be advocates of the rights of those seeking pardons. The Pardon Society has organized events such as the One In Seven criminal record awareness campaign, and has been active in seeking opportunities to speak directly to key influencers on behalf of our clients.
3. To engage government stakeholders such as the Parole Board of Canada.
This point is of particular importance, as the PBC doesn’t recognize the need for services such as ours to exist. This is clearly represented by the fact that the foundation of this proposed fee of $616 is based on a “Willingness To Pay” study completed by RIAS Inc. in February of 2011.
Basing a fee increase recommendation on the statement: “private companies sometimes charge up to $1,000 to help prepare documents”. However, in reality the actual average private services charge is $500 and the services provided during the application process are critical to the efficiency of the pardons system. Year over year, over 40% of all pardon applications are returned for being incomplete. These incomplete applications are most often completed by those attempting to apply for a pardon without assistance. The process and difficulty level associated with this can be likened to representing oneself in court.
In addition to the flawed concept of a willingness to pay, What is most troubling to the Pardon Society and Express Pardons is the fact that these fees will place a crushing burden on the millions of Canadians that need a pardon in order to find work, find housing, volunteer or to travel freely, allowing them to once again become contributing members of society. These fees seek to keep the 4.2 million Canadians with a criminal record in an unnecessarily punitive cycle. A “Willingness To Pay” motivation for the fee increase, is flawed.
What about our Client Sarah from Edmonton Alberta (names have been changed to protect their identity), a single mom in her 50’s working at the local hospital, who is not only struggling to make ends meet, but struggling to keep her job because of the ever-present threat of Background Checks. What is her “Willingness To Pay”? With a simple DUI from 2002 is it fair to place a further overwhelming burden on her shoulders?
Or, David an Aboriginal man from the North West Territories who has been in the education system for over 30 years, and now faces the imminent threat of losing his job if he does not receive a pardon. Phillip just wants to teach local aboriginal children about their culture and heritage. Should a simple DUI from 1988 keep him in this same cycle? What is his “Willingness To Pay”?
Or, Peter from a Small Town in Ontario, an experienced but unemployed Mill-worker who is now on social assistance due to an accident where he can no longer meet the physical requirements of his trade. He received a criminal record in 1972 for driving an uninsured, unregistered vehicle, and that record does not allow him to seek employment in other areas, leaving him no option but to continue on social assistance. What is his “Willingness To Pay”?
Further, we find this “Willingness To Pay” study misappropriated to begin with, as this is something far more common in the private sector. A WTP study would usually be accompanied by equally weighted cost-benefit and opportunity cost analysis documents.
The findings of the cost benefit analysis completed by the independent advisory panel found that the costs greatly outweighed the benefits of this proposed fee increase and are not being given due consideration in this process. Despite the document forwarded to this committee by the office of the Minister of Public Safety dated June 2011, the findings of this Independent Advisory Panel were overwhelmingly against the fee increase.
The bottom line of this proposal by the Parole Board’s own numbers, is that it intends to complete half as many pardons, at four times the cost, and take six times longer to process them . This would fail private sector fiscal scrutiny.
But what about the opportunity costs of this proposal?
The proposed fee increase would account for roughly $6.5 million dollars in increased revenue for the Parole Board of Canada placed crushingly on the backs of those who can least afford it. Let’s compare this $6.5m increase with a few potential opportunity costs.
1. Economic Opportunity Costs (see Graphic Below):
- If that same 25% of individuals were no longer claiming Employment Insurance, this would save the government an additional $259,000,000 per year, based on the average EI claim in 207 . That is 40 X The increase of this proposal. This number does not even take into account other forms of social assistance such as subsidized housing, for those that have been unemployed or under-employed longer. Pardons can make this happen.- Canada has roughly 1.3 million unemployed people . Even though those with criminal records are likely over-represented in this number, with one in seven adult Canadians having criminal records, this would mean that there are almost 200,000 Unemployed Canadians with criminal records. Of these 200,000, many cannot find employment because they can’t pass background checks. A pardon means these people can once again find employment and be tax paying contributing members of society. If only a quarter of these people could once again become employable, and we apply the average tax paid per person in Canada , this would mean an increase of $492,000,000 in annual tax revenue alone. 75 X The increase of this proposal. Pardons can make this happen.
2. What about the opportunity costs that are far more difficult to put a dollar value to? The Costs to Canadian Society:
The Pardon system is an effective incentive to not reoffend and the stats support that with less than a 4% rate of recidivism . Pardons are the “carrot” at the end of the criminal justice “stick”. If we remove incentive to not reoffend, isn’t the logical conclusion that we will see a measured increase in the rate of recidivism? This has been demonstrated by similar failed US policies. If crime costs $99bn a year , what would a 1% increase cost?
I believe it was Ms. Gagné of the Parole Board of Canada who said to this very committee: “At the end of the day, it was found for every dollar that we spend for a pardon, we get $2.83 of benefits, Canada as a whole, and the board.” Surely this is proof positive that we should seek to make Pardons more accessible to Canadians, not less accessible.
Are pardons being singled out for cost recovery, or is this just the beginning? If taxes are used to fund the majority of the criminal justice system, then it would be reasonable to assume the same cost recovery principle could be introduced to the entire criminal justice system based on the precedent this legislation will set, as this proposed cost recovery is a first for the Canadian Government.
What’s next? Should the courts be charging a full cost recovery? Should inmates be presented with an invoice for their stay when they are released? What about the next time I’m pulled over for speeding, should I expect an invoice in the mail for the officer’s time? How far does this cost recovery slope go?
In conclusion; the recently proposed Bill C-10 will already serve to drastically reduce the number of qualified Pardon or Record Suspension applicants. When the fee was increased from $50 to $150 after 15 years, we welcomed this increase, hoping for additional resources at the PBC. But to move from a $150 processing fee, to $616 cost recovery model makes no sense from a public, or private sector perspective.
In Summary, the proposed fee increase will hurt Canadians, represents a flawed attempt at cost recovery and is opposed by those inside and outside the government in a major way.
Such a high fee is unprecedented internationally. Almost all other countries, including those of the common-wealth, provide these services for free, or almost free. Likely these societies value protecting such an important part of the justice system. So the real question is, why don’t we?