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Convicted sex offender Graham James holds Hockey News man of the year award in Toronto in this June 8, 1989 file photo. (Bill Becker/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Convicted sex offender Graham James holds Hockey News man of the year award in Toronto in this June 8, 1989 file photo. (Bill Becker/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Pardon crackdown demands more staff, cash and online sleuthing skills Add to ...

Canada's strict new regime for granting criminal pardons is turning civil servants into psychologists, spies and even Internet sleuths, The Canadian Press has learned.

The Parole Board of Canada says it will need more staff, new funding, better training and access to intelligence sources ranging from Facebook to Interpol in order to enforce rules unanimously adopted by Parliament.

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The logistical and operational challenges are detailed in documents obtained under the Access to Information Act. The internal notes stress that the impact of last summer's legislative change "has been, and will be, significant."

A law rushed through Parliament with all-party agreement last June requires the board to assess the behaviour of pardon applicants from the time of their conviction to ensure granting a pardon would not "bring the administration of justice into disrepute."

The changes came in reaction to revelations by The Canadian Press that former coach and convicted sex offender Graham James had been quietly pardoned for sex convictions involving three young hockey players dating from 1971.

Last October, Mr. James was charged with nine new sex counts involving three additional teenagers under his influence from the late 1970s into the early '90s.

With some 32,000 pardon applications annually, the switch from a system that was all but automatic to one requiring detailed personal assessments is a huge challenge.

"There's no question that the process is going to be lengthier," said Caroline Douglas, a spokeswoman for the parole board.

"It's more complex. There are more investigations that are required. So there will be more work involved with processing each and every pardon application that comes to the board."

Internal notes from late May say the onus would be on the applicant to show that a pardon "would help sustain his or her rehabilitation as a law-abiding member of society."

"Senior pardon officers may need to access psychological tools to analyze the conduct, the nature, the gravity and duration of the offence before determining whether to recommend suspension of a record in some situations."

In additional to new information-sharing arrangements with Interpol, the Canada Border Services Agency and Citizenship and Immigration, pardon officers were given "data mining courses" and access to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

"We will examine these involvements in such social networks to help us understand and explain [pardon applicants']behaviour and attitudes individually and within a network of members, and to make sure they are law-abiding citizens before going ahead with a recommendation to grant an applicant with a pardon," say the documents.

There are currently just 19 people assessing pardon applications in Canada. But the board is not yet ready to say whether pardon applications are piling up.

"It probably would be premature to say that we have a backlog, given that we're still in the process of putting in place the requirements to make sure we meet the legislative [demands]" Ms. Douglas said in an interview Tuesday.

The board is still assessing how much more staff and funding are needed, she said.

"More resources are required to meet those legislative changes, but the full analysis of what is required - that takes time. I don't have an answer as to the bottom line of what we're looking at."

One aspect of the public program has already changed. The $50 application fee for a pardon, set in 1994, has been tripled to $150 and likely will increase further.

"The $150 certainly is going to help, but it's not going to cover all of the costs involved with running the program," Ms. Douglas said, adding the board is looking at an additional fee increase.

The documents say the parole board also pondered streamlining the initial application process by having Service Canada - the one-stop government kiosks set up to help Canadians access many federal programs and services - handle pardon applications.

Currently, about 25 per cent of all applications contain errors, and a large private industry has emerged to assist people seeking criminal pardons. One parole board briefing note refers to such companies as offering "questionable services."

Ms. Douglas said Service Canada will answer general questions about the pardons process but will direct would-be applicants to the parole board.

"At this time there's no firm plan to change that."

 

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