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Pardon fee a 'significant' barrier

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OTTAWA—The $631 fee to apply for a criminal pardon poses a substantial hurdle for people trying to turn their lives around, said a large majority of those who responded to a federal consultation.

Eighty percent indicated the fee is a significant barrier while 16 percent considered it a modest barrier, says a newly-released briefing note about the consultation results.

A formal report of the findings still is being prepared, but The Canadian Press used the Access to Information Act to obtain the internal note, as well as copies of comments from many respondents.

“I find the fees are impossible for a limited income person,” wrote one.

“I have completed my assigned punishments long ago but no one in New Brunswick will hire me.”

A single indigenous mother having trouble getting work because of her criminal record suggested some of the fee be deducted from a future paycheque.

“I only want to live a positive life for my children and myself,” she said.

“Cost of application is expensive for those on limited income, many of whom may be on disability,” wrote another respondent.

The consultation, led by the Parole Board of Canada, is part of a sweeping Liberal review of Harper government changes that made people wait longer and pay more to obtain a pardon, which was renamed a record suspension.

The review comes as the Trudeau government moves to legalize recreational marijuana—an effort that has prompted calls to pardon the thousands of people saddled with a criminal record for personal pot use.

About 10 percent of Canadians (more than three million people) have a criminal record.

A suspension doesn't erase a record, but can make it easier to get a job, travel, and generally contribute to society.

Under the Conservative changes that took effect in 2012, lesser offenders (those with a summary conviction) must wait five years instead of three before they can apply for a suspension.

Offenders who have served a sentence for a more serious crime—an indictable offence—must wait 10 years instead of five.

In addition, the cost of applying quadrupled to $631 from $150 to ensure full cost recovery.

The Conservatives said taxpayers should not subsidize the cost of pardons.

The parole board's online consultation drew 1,607 responses.

In addition, it received a number of e-mails and letters.

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