Alia Pierini, who served five years in prison for crimes committed when she was 19, says she can't help out at her kids school without a pardon. 'Our punishment shouldn't last after we leave prison.'

After a precipitous drop in the number of Canadians seeking a criminal pardon, the number of applications is stabilizing at less than half of what it was in 2011, according to an annual report on record suspensions by the Parole Board of Canada.

Applications have been on the decline since the previous Conservative government amended the Criminal Records Act in 2012. Changes included doubling the waiting period to apply for a pardon, making several offences ineligible for a record suspension and hiking the fee to apply from $150 to $631.

People typically seek pardons in order to apply for jobs, housing, travel or volunteer.

In 2015-16 12,384 Canadians asked the parole board to suspend their criminal records. That’s down from 29,849 in 2011-12.

The board granted 8,917 of the applications received in the last year. Almost half of applicants were pardoned for impaired driving and several hundred more for drug offences.

Parole board officials agree to suspend a criminal record when they are satisfied someone has been living crime-free and has good reasons for needing a pardon.

Yet many Canadians are finding it hard to get on with their lives since the law changed in 2012. It now requires them to wait up to 10 years after the end of their sentence to apply for a record suspension.

Alia Pierini is a single mother of two boys who won’t be able to apply for a pardon until 2020 after serving five years in prison for drug trafficking, extortion and aggravated assault committed at the age of 19.

She said it took her six months to find a nice place to rent in Vancouver because most landlords ask for a criminal record check. She tried to go back to school, but administrators told her she wouldn’t be able to get a practicum with a record.

Pardons process ‘punitive’

In 2012, she won $100,000 on Redemption Inc., a CBC Television show in which former inmates competed for money to start a business. Yet money won’t buy her access to her kids at school.

“Just me being able to fully be involved in my kids’ academic life. I can’t volunteer at my kids’ schools, and my youngest boy, I have to explain to him that before he was alive, I made stupid decisions and now I can’t bake cookies in his class,” Pierini told CBC News.

She said the government should reduce the waiting period to apply for a criminal record suspension.

“Our punishment shouldn’t last after we leave prison,” said Pierini.

In an interview with CBC News in January, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the current criminal pardons process is “punitive,” and he questioned the fees and waiting periods.

In May and June, more than 1,600 people participated in the parole board’s public consultations on record suspensions. A spokesman for the Department of Public Safety told CBC News a summary of comments will be published soon.

“Later this month, the government will be launching broader consultations on the legislative reforms made to the Criminal Records Act over the past decade. This initiative supports the mandate letter commitment to conduct a review of the changes of the criminal justice system and sentencing reforms over the past decade,” said spokesman Scott Bardsley.

Trudeau government may alter
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