Thursday, May 10, 2012

Prisoner of the State

Good afternoon my friends. Today I was having a back and forth conversation with a journalist from CBC, Shaina Luck on Twitter and she lead me to some very interesting information. As most Canadians are aware, the Harper Régime recently passed Bill C-10 on crime. I was forewarned of this, as many Canadians were, and the result was fantastic. Canadians spoke and the bill was tabled; temporarily. It was then passed with little to no media coverage until I awoke one Wednesday morning to discover it had passed. A truly sad day, one of many to come, for Canadians and their rights.

Despite the many obvious concerns there are to have with this bill, there is one in particular that though I was vaguely warned, never (and this was my first mistake) took the time to explore further. It is the part of this document that concerns pardons, or rather the replacement of pardons with what they have termed a record suspension. Just the language of it suggests the true nature of this change. Pardon. Record Suspension. Which one sounds like you have been forgiven for your mistakes after paying for them?

How does this affect me? I have a criminal record. The culmination of my addiction resulted in the criminal charge of Driving Under the Influence. Fortunately, I was alone and no other vehicles or people were involved, damaged or harmed (I am not downplaying my mistake, just letting you know that I am aware of how fortunate I was and how much worse it could have been). However, in Canada, as I would discover over five years later, we have two DUI charges; one is a criminal offense and the other is not. Guess which one I received? Guess what part of the legal system informed me of the true nature of my offense? Not one person during the legal process explained this to me. So for five years I lived completely unaware of my criminal record, despite having completed the punishment; until I applied for a job. Well, you can imagine my surprise. That was in 2011. I am in a rough spot financially, have been for some time, so I did not begin my pardon process immediately; I thought I had time. I was wrong.

Now, I will never have a pardon. I will never truly be forgiven for the mistake I made despite having served the punishment. I may be denied entrance in foreign countries. I may be denied a passport thus the previous note would be irrelevant anyway. I may lose job opportunities (and already have). My character, because of the Harper Régime, has been permanently defamed. Because of Stephen Harper, I will forever carry the stigma of being a criminal no matter how good of a person I become. It isn't that hard to see how people just give up; what would you do?

So where do I get this bold claim from? The Canadian Bar Association (yes the link goes to the British Columbia branch I know; however it is the same from one province to another). You can go check for yourself, but I'm going to provide some quotes and commentary after each to explain myself.

"If you get a record suspension, your criminal record will be kept separate from the criminal records of people who have not got record suspensions. And no one regulated by federal law can give out information about your criminal record or record suspension without permission from the Canadian Minister of Public Safety. But other parties not regulated by federal law (like a municipal police force or private citizen) can still give out such information. A record suspension does not cancel your conviction. And a record suspension does not guarantee you can enter another country or get a visa to enter another country. For example, the US does not recognize Canadian record suspensions."

Kept separate? It was my understanding that a Pardon just took care of it (please correct me if I'm wrong on that). 
Government regulated offices can't divulge it but citizens and municipal police can? Does this not permit a circumnavigation of the first part of that question? Cannot federally regulated organizations or individuals not seek the information out through those not regulated?
Pardons formally permitted you to travel quite easily abroad and as you can see, record suspensions obviously do not. As well, they do not let me enter the most likely of places I might have once visited.

"Apply to the Parole Board of Canada. It costs $631. You may also have to pay other fees for local police record checks and copies of records, documents, and fingerprints."

I have heard numbers ranging from the bottom end of $1200 to the high end of over $4000. I don't have that kind of money to waste on a maybe you can do stuff now.

"The Board will examine your application to see if you are a law-abiding citizen."

Who is on this board? My peers or federally regulated individuals or appointed individuals?

"No, you cannot appeal a Board decision. But if the Board rejects your application, you can reapply after 1 year."

Cannot appeal? Wow. If you're convicted of a crime you can appeal that until the cow's come home! Even if it is a clear cut case of first degree murder, you can still appeal the ruling if you have the time and resources. Why, after paying my dues, do I have to rely on the decisions of people who do not know me other than from biased reports and information? I say this because I am fairly certain they'll be looking at my suspicious or criminal activities (such as my Occupy relation and arrest) and make a snap, biased judgement. They will probably not look at the fact that since my charge I returned and received my High School Diploma; spent a year learning Philosophy and Political Science at University; managed a fast food chain for nearly two years; am currently enrolled in a private college; organize and participate in non-profit and community events such as the Play Date With A Purpose, the MSWalk for a Cure, the Hope for Wildlife Society or more recently, Clean Across Nova Scotia. Do I have trust those things will come into play? None.

"If you are convicted of an offense after you get a record suspension, the Board can revoke, or cancel, it."

Pardons were for life (again, correct me if I am mistaken in this fact).

It also comes to mind that I have not even completed my sentence. I am still required to take a $400+, two day program on educating me why driving under the influence is bad. I am not even eligible for a record suspension until FIVE years from the date I finish that course. I will also have to take a new road test by then, whatever that might cost in five to six years. I will have to then pay for an actual Driver's License. Another $100 on top of that to have it released (part of having your license suspended; you need to pay to get it back). So my total costs, again, just for a maybe, at the low end, is going to cost me over $2000. Why bother? What do I need a license for so long as I live in an urban setting? And if I move to a rural one, well I'll be sure to move within walking distance of the necessities. 

I am a prisoner of my own country; locked in an invisible jail cell by my very own government. Am I now able to claim that I am being oppressed? Are my rights now being trampled? Or am I just a criminal; forever destined to be a plague and burden upon society?