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MPs agree to thwart Homolka's bid for pardon

Faced with the possibility that Karla Homolka would apply for a pardon when she becomes eligible early next month - and that debate of a complex bill to tighten the pardon process could eat into their summer recess - federal politicians have agreed to abridged legislation that can be rushed through the House this week.

After a long day of partisan slurs and multi-party wrangling, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews emerged from meetings with his opposition counterparts late Wednesday to say a small portion of Bill C-23 - legislation that would restrict access to pardons - would be hived off and passed quickly.

The remainder of Bill C-23 will be debated in the fall, Mr. Toews said. The segment that will be expedited would prevent offenders like Ms. Homolka from applying for a pardon during the recess, he said.

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MPs hope to be heading to their home ridings for three months starting Thursday.

The Liberals were still looking at the details of the plan late Wednesday but the Bloc Québécois and the New Democrats have given their approval and the essential components of a deal are in place, Mr. Toews said.

The minister said he could not reveal the details of the bill as it has yet to be introduced in the Commons. "But I can say, in respect of the criminal elements of our bill, so as to prevent notorious criminals from receiving a pardon, we have an agreement," Mr. Toews said.

The minister denied that the new bill was aimed at one person. But Ms. Homolka's name was raised frequently on Wednesday as the parties debated the issue.

Bill C-23 was introduced in May as an attempt by the Conservative government to do away with the routine pardons are essentially granted to any criminal who applies after their sentence is completed.

It followed a public uproar that began when media reports revealed that hockey coach Graham James had obtained a pardon in 2007 after he was convicted for sexual assaults against two teens, including Sheldon Kennedy, who went on to play in the National Hockey League.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself took an active interest in the file and demanded that his government act quickly to change the situation.

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The result is a bill that would replace pardons with "record suspensions" that would be more difficult to obtain and take longer to get.

But, after introducing the legislation on May 11, the government did nothing to move it forward in the House of Commons until Monday of this week, when the bill was read a second time and sent to a committee to be studied.

Then it came to the attention of the government that Ms. Homolka was eligible to apply for a pardon on July 4, five years from the date that she was released from prison after serving 12 years for her part in the rape and murder of teenagers Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy.

There was no indication that Ms. Homolka planned to apply for a pardon when permitted to do so. There was no indication that one would be granted. But politicians of all stripes expressed outrage at the possibility that that it could happen.

Malcolm Allen, the New Democrat MP in whose Welland riding encompasses the turf that was once trolled by Ms. Homolka and her then husband, killer Paul Bernardo, suggested expediting the small portion of the bill that would deny pardons in cases where they would bring the justice system into disrepute.

Ms. Toews initially rejected that proposal. At a news conference held Wednesday after the Conservatives weekly caucus meeting, he said, Mr. Allen's suggestion would "gut" the bill.

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But faced with the prospect of having to stay in Ottawa beyond the day they thought their summers would official begin, the politicians found a way to strike a deal.

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