Pardon Me Program helps people get free of criminal records

Monday, April 8th, 2024 3:09pm


By Crystal St.Pierre
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Navigating a new path in life isn’t always easy, but the Elizabeth Fry (EFry) Society of Greater Vancouver is advocating for individuals across Canada hoping to get clear of a particular barrier.

Its Pardon Me Program offers assistance to those exploring the criminal record suspension process. Since EFry launched the program, the society has helped more than 1,000 people get criminal record pardons.

EFry runs about 32 programs assisting people who have become embroiled with the Canadian justice system, including halfway houses, employment programs and shelters. The Pardon Me Program was added to its list of offerings in 2022 after receiving funding from Public Safety Canada for the 2022/2026 term.

The cost of the pardon process for individuals, including government fees, is covered by EFry if the applicant’s pre-tax annual income is $25,000 or less, though exceptions can be made for those with higher incomes on a case-by-case basis, said Chrystal Lattie, special projects and program supervisor at EFry.

Chrystal Lattie
Chrystal Lattie

“There are a number of benefits for a lot of the folks that we've talked to,” said Lattie. “People who are like, you know, ‘it's been 20 years since I left that part of my life behind and I just want to move forward and not always have that lingering there’. So, for some people, it's simply about moving forward and feeling free of that part of their past.”

Removing a criminal record could mean individuals are able to volunteer at their child’s school, apply for housing or even gain employment.

This barrier is present also for those attending secondary schooling as they transition into professions where a criminal record check is required.

“The reality is, if they aren’t able to have a clean criminal record check, they won’t be able to work in the field after all of the hard work they’ve made to moving forward,” said Lattie.

This is where EFry and the Pardon Me Program creates opportunities by helping people navigate the process of applying for a pardon.

As the program gains momentum, Lattie said she wants to increase awareness of Pardon Me within Indigenous communities across Canada.

“One of the big things in our proposal, in our agreement with Public Safety Canada, is because we know that Indigenous people are so overrepresented in the criminal justice system that they are actually one of our target populations. We really want to support Indigenous people who are eligible to go through the pardon process,” she said.

About 28 per cent of federally sentenced individuals are Indigenous and 32 per cent of all individuals in custody are Indigenous. Indigenous women represent 50 per cent of the total incarcerated females, she said.

“It's huge considering the percentage that (Indigenous people) account for when it comes to the whole Canadian population,” said Lattie (five per cent). “It speaks to the over-representation of our Indigenous people in the justice system.”

This is why the facilitators of the program have really focused on spreading awareness to Indigenous organizations nationwide.

Lattie said the stigma that’s attached to individuals being involved in the justice system often will hinder desires to move forward with the process of clearing their record.

“I think it’s really important to let people know that we’re there to stand with them and support them through the process in a very trauma informed way. Because as you can imagine, if you have had this justice system involvement, even going to the RCMP office to get your fingerprints done can be triggering.  I think it’s really important for them to know that they have a person who will support them through the entire process. And, if they are faced with financial difficulties that they will also have all of these fees that are associated with that covered for them,” Lattie said.

Those who are interested in applying for the criminal record suspension process can call EFry directly at 1-888-879-9593 and they will be put through to a caseworker. Or they can fill out a quick submission online on the website and a caseworker will reach out to them.

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.