As President Trump prepares to leave the White House (if he ever does), one of the current hot topics south of the border is the President’s power to grant “prospective pardons”, that is, to pardon people for offences that have already been committed, but for which they have yet to be charged or prosecuted.
There is precedent for this, dating back to 1866 and the pardoning of Confederate soldiers following the US Civil War, but it is a presidential power that is rarely exercised. Two instances from the tumultuous 1970’s were Gerald Ford’s Watergate pardon of Richard Nixon in 1974, and Jimmy Carter’s pardon of Vietnam draft dodgers in 1977, allowing thousands of them to return from Canada, free of criminal consequence.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall during these discussions now, as President Trump considers pardon applications.
“Sir, could I be pardoned please?”
“Sure, what crime did you commit?
“Sir, I’m offended, I’m an honest and honourable man, I have committed no crimes”.
“Great, but if there is no crime, I cannot pardon you.”
“Oh, in that case, how about one for bribing foreign government officials? And, just to be safe, let’s add in public intoxication, soliciting prostitutes and attempting to fix Buffalo Bills games.”
Here in Canada, as is often the case, things are not quite so dramatic.
For anyone who has been ever charged with a criminal offence in Canada, it is recommended to seek final closure of the matter by clearing the record as much as possible, for reasons that include future employment or volunteer work, international travel, immigration status, privacy and confidentiality.
If one were found guilty and convicted of a criminal offence, a Record Suspension (formerly called a “Pardon”) is required. There are rules and waiting periods surrounding an application for a Record Suspension, but once granted, it sets aside one’s criminal record and removes it from the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database.
A Record Suspension, however, is only effective in Canada and it does not guarantee entry into other countries, if one is potentially inadmissible due to a criminal record. Usually, the country of biggest concern is the US. In these instances, an application for a US Waiver is also recommended. Once granted, a US Waiver is advance permission from the US government, allowing a person with a Canadian criminal record to travel there, saving the stress, risk and uncertainty of attempting to cross the border without one.
Finally, for those who had their criminal charges withdrawn, or were found not guilty, or were found guilty but were granted a Conditional or Absolute Discharge, an Application to Destroy Police Fingerprints and Photographs is recommended and advisable, for similar reasons to the ones described above for Record Suspensions and US Waivers.
The historical reasons for granting pardons are grounded in concepts of grace and mercy, the idea of allowing for a person’s sentence and punishment to be complete and to allow and encourage full reintegration back into society, without the ongoing stigma and restrictions of a criminal record.
And, of course, for someone who has been part of the current US presidential administration, a pardon may be their one last hope!