Requests for Royal Prerogative of Mercy on the rise as Ottawa restricts pardons

The Canadian Press

OTTAWA - New restrictions on the granting of criminal record suspensions, or pardons, are causing more former convicts to seek clemency under the rarely used Royal Prerogative of Mercy.

According to the Parole Board of Canada, there are currently 79 active mercy pleas in the system, up from about 20 applications that are usually handled in any given year.

In fact, the federal agency has posted an "Important Notice" on its website to discourage clemency applications, which it notes are "only granted in exceptional circumstances."

The Parole Board says tougher eligibility rules for getting a federal pardon — which seals a person's old criminal record — are behind the jump in clemency bids.

The Conservative government has brought in a series of changes to the pardons system since The Canadian Press reported in 2010 that serial sex predator Graham James had his criminal record quietly sealed.

Just 12 clemencies have been granted in the last dozen years, but the Royal Prerogative of Mercy got a high-profile boost last summer when Prime Minister Stephen Harper used it for two grain farmers previously convicted for protesting the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly.