Friday, April 18, 1997

Joey Thompson

p. A19.

I rest my case

Pardon clouds probe of abuse

Police are interviewing some 300 adults, one-time boarders at a high school in Inuvik, N.W.T.

Vancouver police are working with RCMP to track down hundreds of students who bunked in an Inuvik school dorm during the 1960s and '70s.

The file could balloon into the largest child sex investigation ever run in the Northwest Territories.

I'm told Mounties, with the help of city police, will be questioning up to 300 Inuit and Dene adults who lived in Grollier Hall while attending high school in their teens.

"It could become another Maple Leaf Gardens-type thing," a source told me.

"We're going to be speaking to hundreds of people."

Most of the 14-to-16-year-olds had homes in the 10 outlying communities, far from the region's public school. They camped out in the Inuvik hall during the school year.

Police first got wind of dubious goings-on at the student residence when a former pupil complained two months ago.

Now their biggest task is locating the other students, adults in their 30s and 40s. Many left the area years ago.

The suspect, a former supervisor at the residence/hostel, has not yet been charged but I'm told he was also a justice of the peace back then who handled some provincial family court matters.

What's more, he has already been in prison once for molesting a lad who lived in the dorm.

But police can't count the 1979 sex conviction; they have to pretend it never happened.

That's because the National Parole Board pardoned the suspect, now in his 50s and living in Vancouver, after he proved he had been conviction-free for five years.

The board wiped his slate clean as it has done with an estimated 87,981 other Canadian offenders since 1991.

The Criminal Records Act makes if fairly easy to get a pardon. If you've been convicted of a serious (indictable) offence you have to prove you've been good for five years, and three if you've been rapped for a summary (less serious) conviction.

Once you have been pardoned, your criminal record no longer exists and your file is sealed -- in Canada anyway.

Federal laws prohibit employers within federal jurisdiction from popping the question: "Do you have, or have you ever had a criminal record?"

On the provincial level, the onus is on the individual to answer the question truthfully. Municipal law-enforcement agencies are also expected to lock away a pardoned person's past.

Now, if a guy is convicted of an additional indictable offence, he automatically loses the pardon. And his record is reinstated.

(Someone convicted of a less serious crime could also lose it but that's for the board to decide.)

My point is: What guarantee do we have that the info about the previous pardoned crimes would reach Crown counsel in time to inform the sentencing judge?

Furthermore, what safeguards are in place to ensure that a subsequent conviction is even brought to the parole board's attention?

And how long does that take?

Ottawa media director Sheila Watkins was kind enough to fax me a chart on how benevolent the NPB has been to offenders.

Last year the board forgave 10,454 offenders who committed some type of serious (indictable) crime; 11,000 in 1995, 18,668 the year before that, and so on.

NPB doesn't have a breakdown of the types of crimes, or from which provinces the requests came.

Watkins said they denied pardons to 947 offenders during the past six years, which counts for less than two per cent of the applications processed.

She said the majority have stayed clean. A tiny number, about one per cent, had to have their pardons pulled because of a subsequent conviction.

"A pardon is a way of rewarding the offender for paying his debt and for becoming a law-abiding citizen."

If you have a comment or column idea call Joey Thompson at 732-2119 or write care of The Province.

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Created: April 19, 1997
Last modified: July 2, 1997

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