When the federal government discovered that Karla Homolka – who completed a 12-year manslaughter sentence 5 years ago – would be eligible for a pardon next month (July 5th), it announced that it would move quickly to prevent her from doing so. That’s why, on June 17th, the Government did something extraordinary: the House of Commons split Bill C-23 (which would make changes to the Criminal Records Act) into 2 NEW BILLS (C-23A and C-23B) and moved quickly to pass one of them (C-23A), while leaving the other one for further debate beginning in the fall (C-23B).
The House of Commons had to pass Bill C-23A a 3rd and final time before retiring for the summer break. After the 3rd reading, it would go to the Senate for review before becoming law. June 17th was the deadline for the House of Commons to pass Bill C-23A. So, without much of a debate, that’s exactly what happened: a motion was passed by all parties to split Bill C-23 into Bill C-23A and B. Incredibly, as part of that motion, everyone agreed “that Bill C-23A be deemed to have been reported from the Committee without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage and deemed read a third time and passed.”
Now, to understand why this was so extraordinary, you need to realize how Bills are typically passed into law. Normally, there is a 1st and 2nd reading of the Bill in the House of Commons. Then the Bill is referred to a committee for consideration, followed by a report stage and then a 3rd reading. Amazingly, none of this was done for Bill C-23A! There was no summary to the bill, no legislative review, no speeches, etc. So this was a rather strange way of passing Bill C-23A!
What’s so special about Bill C-23A? Well, this Bill adopts some parts of Bill C-23 (not all of it). The hope is that it will be passed into law quickly and take effect to prevent Karla Homolka from getting a pardon. Specifically, this Bill would make amendments to the Criminal Records Act which would increase the time limits for those seeking a pardon. First, those who individuals who were convicted of certain serious personal injury offences under the Criminal Code (including manslaughter – which is what Homolka was convicted for) and who were sentenced to prison for at least 2 years would have to wait 10 years after completing their sentence before applying for a pardon. Those convicted of certain summary conviction offences (i.e. less serious offences) listed in Bill C-23A’s Schedule 1 would need to wait 5 years after completing their sentence before they are able to apply for a pardon; this is up from 3 years right now. Those convicted of summary conviction offences not listed in Bill C-23A’s Schedule 1 would need to wait 3 years (as is currently the case).
In addition to making applicants wait longer, Bill C-23A would give the Board the power to grant a pardon if it is satisfied that:
- the applicant has been of good conduct and has not been convicted of an offence under an Act of Parliament during the applicable waiting period; and
- for applicants subject to increased waiting periods (i.e. 10 or 5 years), that granting the pardon at that time would provide a measurable benefit to the applicant, would sustain his or her rehabilitation in society as a law-abiding citizen and would not bring the administration of justice into disrepute.
For those who are subject to the extra waiting time, they would have the burden of proving whether the pardon would provide them with a “measurable benefit” and would “sustain his or her rehabilitation in society as a law-abiding citizen”.
Finally, in determining whether granting the pardon would bring the administration of justice into disrepute, the National Parole Board MAY consider (so it’s discretionary):
- the nature, gravity and duration of the offence;
- the circumstances surrounding the commission of the offence;
- information relating to the applicant’s criminal history; and
- any factor that is prescribed by regulation.
So now that Bill C-23A has passed 3rd reading in the House of Commons, it is currently being reviewed in the Senate. The House of Commons has retired for the summer, but the Senate is staying a few more weeks to see if it can get Bill C-23A passed into law. Right now, it’s being reviewed by the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, who will report back to the Senate for final debate.