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Nanaimo man faces five-year wait for pardon over fines he didn't know he had

Robin McCaghren says he only discovered he had two unpaid $100 fines for failing to attend court and failing to appear in 1997 and 1998 when he got a criminal record check.
Robin McCaghren says fines of $200 from 35 years ago are holding him back. CHEK NEWS

A Nanaimo man believes that a decades-old clerical court error is the reason he can’t apply for a pardon for five years.

Last year, Robin McCaghren, a 47-year-old married father of three, was offered a job with Fedex, but his criminal record check revealed minor convictions. The courier company offered to hold the job for him while he applied to the Parole Board of Canada for a record suspension or pardon.

But McCaghren quickly learned there was no point in submitting the forms. He discovered he had two unpaid $100 fines for failing to attend court and failing to appear in 1997 and 1998 in Calgary.

“When I began this process in October, I didn’t know those fines existed,” McCaghren said Wednesday. “I believed from the start that I’m in the clear and my criminal record was behind me. I thought it was all dealt with. I think this must be a clerical error in the court system.”

According to the parole board, a person applying for a record suspension must have completed their sentences and probation orders and made payment in full of any fines or restitution orders.

“Important,” says the website, “if you were ordered to pay any fines, costs, surcharges, compensation orders or restitution as part of your sentence, you should pay it in full as soon as possible. The waiting period only starts once full payment has been made. Proof of payment must be provided with your record suspension application.”

After completion, the person must wait a set number of years — based on the date when they committed their first offence — before applying for a record suspension.

In McCaghren’s case, he has to pay the fines, then wait five years to apply for a record suspension.

“It’s ironic. The whole mandate of the Parole Board of Canada is to put people on the straight and narrow and have them become contributing members of society,” he said. “And I am very far removed from the kid I was living on the street.”

McCaghren grew up in foster care and group homes in Calgary from the age of eight. He ran away many times between the ages of eight and 13, when he was shipped off to Stampede Ranch in southern Alberta. He settled at the group home in the mountains, raising livestock for the Calgary stampede, an experience he describes as Yellowstone meets group home.

But at age 18, he aged out of the system.

“They’re like, ‘Have a nice life.’ I had no job, no skills. I was a completely lost kid,” he said. “I bounced around the streets and got mixed in with a lot of people who appeared to be my friends.”

At 19, he was charged as a party to a break-in when one of his roommates broke into an ex-girlfriend’s house to get his stereo back.

“I was never involved in the break-in,” said McCaghren, who did time, was fined and put on probation.

But he did have warrants and outstanding fines for riding Calgary’s light rail transit without paying.

Around this time, when he was 20, McCaghren moved to Saskatoon, married and became a father to a baby girl. Because he wanted to find work, he went to court and asked them to move all his Calgary matters to Saskatoon to have everything dealt with.

“I remember standing in front of a judge who said: ‘My job as a judge is to put people on the straight and narrow. You’re on the straight and narrow. I’m going to dismiss all but the most serious charge and you can deal with that here by probation,’ ” McCaghren recalled.

“It was all dealt with. I walked out of there and I was like, ‘Hey, this is all behind me.’ And from that day forward, I haven’t had so much as a jaywalking ticket,”

For the past 25 years, McCaghren believed his fines had been dealt with.

“So if it turns out I have to wait another five years because of a clerical error, that’s not on me,” he said. “And because things like that can happen, I don’t think that a person applying for a pardon, so they can move their life forward, should be dependent on a situation where there’s a high likelihood of a clerical error.”

Applying for a pardon shouldn’t depend on a fine — it should depend on whether a person has an outstanding criminal conviction, he said.

The job he applied for would give his family financial security, McCaghren said.

“Right now, the cost of rent has gone up, the cost of groceries. Every single aspect of our lives has become more expensive … If we have one bad month, we are on the streets with the rest of the people using food banks and welfare services. That’s going to cost the government infinitely more money than stamping my pardon and letting us move on with life.”