Airdrie-born bill becomes law
A bill that was spearheaded by an Airdrie woman to prevent sexual offenders from being pardoned became a law on March 12.
Bill C- 23 B: Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act was part of Bill C-10, an omnibus crime bill, which just received royal ascent.
“There’s hardly any words to explain how excited I am for this to finally pass,” said Amy Stewart, a local mother and sexual assault survivor.
“I am amazed, extremely happy, overjoyed and shocked. When I started this, I never thought we would be presenting a bill to (House of Commons) and have it become a law.”
In April of 2010, Stewart created the Facebook page “Convicted Sex Offenders Should NOT Get Pardoned” after she heard that notorious sexual offender and former hockey coach Graham James had been given a pardon.
“I knew something had to be done,” she said.
Shortly after, Stewart approached Wild Rose MP Blake Richards about creating a petition for a bill (Bill C-23 A) that would bar criminals from receiving pardons. The petition travelled around the country and accumulated thousands of signatures. On June 16, 2011, federal politicians agreed to fast track the legislation to prevent notorious offenders from applying for a pardon.
“Amy Stewart worked with myself and my staff to put together a petition and that was part of the reason this piece of legislation was passed,” said Richards. “This is something we can all be proud of. I can’t thank Amy enough for all of the work she put into this. Without people like Amy getting behind politicians like me, these kinds of things wouldn’t happen.”
The bill renames pardons ‘criminal record suspensions,’ increases the ineligibility period for criminal record suspensions for indictable offenses from five to 10 years, increase penalties for those committing sexual offences against children and includes mandatory minimum sentences of two years.
“This is something I pushed strongly for government to take action on. Those who commit sexual offences on children will not be able to hide from scrutiny,” said Richards.
“To know you were able to be a part of creating something that will protect children, it makes one feel like they are making a difference. Crimes against children are the most heinous crimes.”
Stewart said she feels better about sending her children out into the world now that this bill has passed.
“No amount of time (in jail) can justify taking away the innocence of a child,” she said.
“But I feel much better now than I did before these changes were made.”
However, she said there is still work to be done.
“This has given me the motivation I need because now I know the government will listen. I would like to see a sexual offender registry that is open to the public like the one in the (United) States,” she said.
“I would also like to ensure sexual offenders have to serve their full sentences and can’t be let out due to good behaviour.”
She said she would also like to ensure trials do not take as long as most do now and that young children do not have to testify in court.
“This often makes the victims feel like the criminals and it is not fair for young kids,” she said.
“I will continue to talk to Blake, talk to the media and keep this out in the open. We talk openly about murders and thefts but sexual assault gets swept under the rug. I don’t want people to be ashamed. I want the victims to know they aren’t the ones who should be ashamed.”
She also encouraged other people in the community to stand up for what they believe in.
“When you are passionate about something, never give up,” she said.
“When you run into a wall, there will be an opportunity for you to keep on moving forward.”
In addition to thanking Richards for his help, Stewart thanks Sheldon Kennedy for publicly supporting Bill C-23 B.
Bill 10 is an amalgamation of nine pieces of legislature that were not passed during the Conservative government’s years as a minority.
Richards said after the federal election in May, the government made a promise to bundle the crime legislation and have it passed quickly.
The bill also includes new mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug offenders, harsher penalties for violent crimes, and a provision allowing victims of terrorism to sue perpetrators more easily.