Why we pardon criminals

There is an old legal saying that hard cases make bad law, wrote James Morton, adjunct professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in the Ottawa Citizen April 7. Nowhere is that saying proven better than in the recent pardon of Graham James, a convicted child molester.

How is it that such a criminal received a pardon? Surely the system is skewed towards criminals and it is time to clamp down on pardons? Actually, the system is not skewed and pardons are a valuable tool in preventing crime and rehabilitating criminals.

Obtaining a pardon for a serious offence, while largely administrative, requires someone convicted to have stayed out of the criminal system for five full years following the completion of their sentence, wrote Morton. The person seeking a pardon must show five years of “good conduct”, which the Criminal Records Act defines as “behaviour that is consistent with and demonstrates a law-abiding lifestyle.”

Five years is a long time, and, broadly put, if someone stays out of trouble for that long, they are very likely going to stay out of the system. Very few pardons are revoked because of new offences.

A pardon allows someone who has, in fact, turned his or her life around to get past their earlier offence and become a productive citizen. The prospect of a pardon is an incentive to persons convicted of a crime to stay out of trouble and is a useful tool for rehabilitation.

And rehabilitation is important. Perpetual incarceration is not an option for any but the most dangerous of offenders. People convicted of serious offences are going to be released back into society. Unless there are incentives for them to turn away from their past lives, they will inevitably drift back to crime; this is especially so if they are always to be marked as criminals without hope of redemption.

Perhaps we could rename “pardon” to be something less evocative – say, “remission of conviction”. Perhaps pardons could be made more difficult to get for sexual-based offences. But the concept of an eventual pardon for good behaviour is appropriate and ought not to be eliminated.

  • Jonathan Rosenthal, adjunct professor in criminal law in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, also spoke about the James case and recent calls for a review of the National Parole Board, on CBC Radio April 6.

Sustainable growth lecture

Professor Peter Victor argues that unending economic growth is not sustainable and that we should instead aim for a steady-state economy, wrote The Hamilton Spectator April 7.

Victor, author of Managing Without Growth, will outline his thesis at the annual general meeting of Environment Hamilton [April 8]. The environmental advocacy group’s meeting begins at 7pm in the auditorium of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board Education Centre, 100 Main St. W. in Hamilton.

Victor is an economist who teaches in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University. His appearance is one of a series of presentations being held as part of Environment Hamilton’s Greening Our Local Economy project.

Band members met at York

The Median includes lead guitarist [former student] Mat Power, 20, Bernadette Connors, 21, on vocals and guitarist, bass player Trevor Hassen, 20…and drummer Lauren Chan, 21, the latest addition to The Median, wrote the Georgina Advocate April 1 in a story about the band from Keswick.

Trying to find the perfect fit, Power eventually met Chan at York University where he noticed his unparalleled drumming style and modest way about himself. This not only stuck out to Power, but the other members, who all agreed Chan was a perfect fit for The Median’s musical outlook. He became an official member of the group last year.

Local student wins Royal Bank scholarship for new Canadians

As a child she always did well in school. But growing up, top marks were sometimes not enough in York student Jennifer Zhou’s house, wrote the Richmond Hill Liberal April 1.

“My parents always had such high standards for me…. They wouldn’t be satisfied with an A+, they would think why aren’t you getting 100 per cent?” Zhou said. “They would say if someone else can do it then you should be able to do it as well.”

Then last December she accomplished something that would make any parent proud. Zhou, 18, of Richmond Hill, was one of 12 to win $3,500 from the RBC Royal Bank Scholarship for New Canadians. The determined teen started her undergraduate education at the Schulich School of Business at York University last fall.

Profs urged to speak out on issues

David McNally, a professor of political science in York University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, said that “protecting relationships with corporate and government institutions” has become the principal obligation of universities, wrote the Brantford Expositor April 7 in a report on a forum called The Politics of Academic Freedom held at the Brantford campus of Wilfrid Laurier University. “We’re at a really important time,” he said. “(Academic freedom) is coming under attack in a way we haven’t seen for a long time.”