February 1, 2009

Pardon Me? Why you don't need a lawyer to discharge your criminal record

Pardons, pardons, pardons!!! We will not be undersold!!!! Every pardon must go, at incredible bargain basement prices!!!!!

Ads for companies selling pardon services are everywhere, from the back of buses to flashing internet ads. The companies capitalize on the embarrassment people feel in having a criminal record, the urgency of removing it for employment, travel or immigration reasons, and the fear and confusion caused by dealing with legal paperwork.

What these companies don't tell you is that obtaining a pardon on your own is a relatively straight-forward, inexpensive process which does not require a lawyer or any pardon company. In Canada, pardons can only be issued by the National Parole Board ("NPB"), which has published a step-by-step guide for applying for a pardon. This means that pardon companies are charging you a hefty fee for filling out the same government paperwork which you can get yourself for free online.

But don't just take our word for it - even the NPB says there's no advantage to using a lawyer or pardon company:

You do not need a lawyer or a representative to apply for a pardon. The pardon application guide includes step - by - step instructions on how to apply for a pardon, as well as the pardon forms. The NPB gives equal consideration to all pardon applications received - whether they are submitted by an individual or by a representative from a private agency. Submitting your pardon application through an agency or lawyer will not improve your chances of being granted or issued a pardon. The NPB is not affiliated with any pardon agencies.

What about companies which "guarantee" I'll get my pardon?

Because the NPB is the only organization in Canada which can issue paroles, no company or lawyer can "guarantee" you will get your pardon. Whether you are eligible for a pardon depends on whether you have 1) completed all sentences and 2) waited a certain period from the completion of all sentences.

1. When is a sentence completed?

  • When a person has paid all fines, surcharges, costs, restitution and compensation orders in full;
  • When a person has served all of his/her time, including parole or statutory release; and
  • When a person has satisfied his/her probation order.

2. What is the waiting period?

  • For convictions under the Criminal Code and other federal statutes:
    - Three years for summary convictions; and
    - Five years for indictable offences.

The NPB will also consider whether you have demonstrated that you a law-abiding person of good character. If you do not meet these criteria, you will not be eligible for a pardon, and will have to wait one year to re-apply.

What about companies that say I'll get a "fast" or "expedited" pardon?

Some pardon companies claim to offer an "expedited" or "rush" service for an extra fee. Be wary of these claims because the NPB treats all pardon applications the same way, and there is no way to get expedited or rush service.

You can expect the process to take between 12 and 18 months. It may take longer if paperwork is not filled out correctly. Pardon companies may be able to help you fill out the paperwork correctly, minimizing delays due to incomplete information, but they have no special connection or power to put your application at the front of the queue.

If you carefully follow the step-by-step guide, proofread your application, and have a friend double-check the paperwork for you, you can avoid these delays without having to pay a pardon company to review your work for you.

What about the "special discounts" these companies offer?

Pardon companies can charge anywhere from $500 to $800 or more for preparing your pardon application. By comparison, if you apply for a pardon yourself your only costs (aside from postage) will be a $25 fee to the RCMP for a certified copy of your criminal record, the cost of obtaining a set of fingerprints from the RCMP, which is about $45, plus a $50 fee for the NPB to evaluate the merits of a pardon request. The total for a do-it-yourself pardon is likely less than $150.

The important thing to remember is that the application process for a pardon is designed for ordinary people to do themselves, without the help of a lawyer or company. With a little organization, you can save hundreds of dollars by applying for a pardon on your own behalf.


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