Thanks to some recently received funding, the local branch of the John Howard Society is helping to remove the financial barrier for people who are seeking a pardon for a conviction to help them move on with their lives.
For years, the John Howard Society of Sault Ste. Marie has been helping people to navigate the difficult and costly process of applying for a record suspension, more commonly known as a pardon, from the Parole Board of Canada.
The program is open to any individual who has a criminal record, has been out of conflict with the law for the last five to 10 years — depending on the nature of their convictions — and meets the Parole Board of Canada’s record suspension application criteria.
The cost of going through that process can vary from person to person, starting at about $230, said Jessica Caldwell, program director for John Howard Society of Sault Ste. Marie.
Having a dated conviction on their record can affect people in a number of ways, including making it more difficult to get a job or be approved for housing.
“We have people who are retired and just want to volunteer, but they have a DUI from when they were in their twenties and it still prevents them from doing things like that. I have people who are just looking to put their past behind them, they don’t want it following them around anymore, they want to be a good role model for their families and children and want to just set it aside," said Caldwell.
Applying for a record suspension is a lengthy process, said Caldwell. Applicants who are eligible must first obtain a record search from the RCMP, then the lengthy process of applying for more records. Then a report from the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service or OPP on the addresses the applicant has lived at in the past five years is needed. Every step has a cost and its own waiting period for a reply.
“A lot of people just want to put their past behind them, kind of like a closure things, so they can finally do that and move forward with their lives," said Caldwell. “It is a long process, but if they can stick through it it’s a huge befit to them."
The final step of the process involves talking about the offences and what steps the person has made to change their life for the better.
“That alone can be really difficult for people. Just being able to help them take notes and put it together so it is worded in a way they are happy with — it’s a good closure for a lot of clients," said Caldwell.
Public Safety Canada is supporting the organization locally, offering to cover most, if not all, of the cost for individuals applying for a record suspension through John Howard Society of Sault Ste Marie.
“Two-hundred and thirty dollars may not be a lt to someone who is working, but to someone who is not that is not, that is their groceries for a month or two," said Caldwell. "Now they can afford to do both and get things moving so they can get back to work."
The funding also allowed John Howard Society of Sault Ste Marie to add a part-time staff member to assist with the program.
“We want to make sure people know it exists and they should take advantage of it now while we have funding," she added.
Convictions in Canada do not disappear or fall off of someone's record automatically, said Jackie Martin, executive director of John Howard Society of Sault Ste Marie.
“A lot of people sway away from applying for that record suspension because it’s overwhelming. It’s not easy for people to navigate," said Martin.
A press release about the program from John Howard Society of Sault Ste Marie can be seen below:
The John Howard Society has received three-year funding from Public Safety Canada to deliver support services to community members with criminal records looking for pardons.
“The application process can be complicated and traumatic for many individuals," said John Howard Executive Director Jackie Martin in a news release. "Our record suspension specialists have the skills and knowledge to ease the application process. This funding will make the record suspension process more affordable and accessible for those negatively impacted by a criminal record. While a record suspension will not completely erase one’s criminal record, it separates the record so that it will not come up on a standard criminal record check."
The John Howard Society is hopeful that many more residents of Sault Ste Marie and the wider Algoma District will now be able to apply for a record suspension, the release added. A record suspension, or pardon, eases the process of applying for jobs, volunteer work, securing housing and helps those individuals no longer in conflict with the law to put their past behind them.
“Many individuals have done their best to live as law-abiding citizens and contribute to society despite their past,” said Jessica Caldwell, record suspension program coordinator in the release. “However they find themselves confronted with the financial and emotional barriers associated with their criminal record when it comes to seeking meaningful employment.”
The widespread stigma of a criminal record and the growing use of background checks in Canada has resulted in millions of Canadians being denied the chance to build a productive future for themselves and their families, the release said.
“Many individuals are eager to find employment but have been discouraged in the past due to the growing requirement for background checks,” said Caldwell. “They want to move forward with their lives as productive members of society but find it nearly impossible to do so when their record prevents them from obtaining employment.”
The program is open to anyone who has a criminal record, has been out of conflict with the law for the last 5-10 years (depending on the nature of their convictions) and meets the Parole Board of Canada’s record suspension application criteria.
Anyone interested in the program should call Caldwell at 705-297-5513 or email here.