OTTAWA - The federal government wants to quadruple the cost of seeking a criminal pardon to $631, sparking outrage from critics who say it will only make it harder for ex-convicts to turn their lives around.

The proposal comes less than two months after the government bumped the price of applying to $150 from $50.

The Conservatives argue taxpayers should not have to subsidize the pardon process.

"People aren't entitled to pardons, that's something that society decides to provide in appropriate circumstances," Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said Wednesday.

"We believe that where an individual has been convicted of a criminal offence, as a result of his own or her own deliberate act, society shouldn't have to pay for the removal of that criminal conviction."

The Parole Board of Canada warned recently it would need more staff, additional funding, better training and access to more information resources ranging from Facebook to Interpol to enforce stricter rules passed by Parliament.

A pardon doesn't erase a person's criminal record, but can make it easier for someone who has served a sentence to get a job and travel abroad. Advocates say a pardon is an important step toward helping people who have broken the law make their way back to society.

Opposition critics denounced the proposed fee hike as a backward move.

The increase will be a "disaster if implemented," said Mark Holland, the Liberal public safety critic.

"The pardon is an opportunity for people to clear their name so that they can get a good job, so that they can go out and pay taxes and be a contributing member to society."

It's important to keep a pardon affordable, said New Democrat public safety critic Don Davies, calling the planned fee boost "outrageous."

"We shouldn't be putting up barriers."

John Hutton of the John Howard Society of Manitoba, a group that helps prisoners get back on their feet, labelled the plan "mean-spirited."

"It will make it much more difficult for people to get a pardon," said Hutton. "And it'll be the people that we're working with -- people that are low-income, that are just at the bottom end of the employment ladder.

"And frankly that's not a good thing. We want to see people moving on, and moving beyond their criminal past."

Ainsley Muller of Express Pardons, a Vancouver company that helps people complete their pardon applications, said the most common reason given for seeking one is to help get a job.

But many people simply don't have the money, he said. "When we went from $50 to $150 it was earth-shattering for hundreds of our clients."

An increase to $631 would put a pardon "completely out of reach," Muller said.

A law rushed onto the books last June requires the board to assess the behaviour of applicants from the time of their conviction to ensure granting a pardon would not "bring the administration of justice into disrepute."

It means the vetting of pardon applications -- once largely a matter of simply checking paperwork -- has become a much more labour-intensive process.

The changes came in reaction to revelations by The Canadian Press that former coach and convicted sex offender Graham James had been quietly pardoned for sex convictions involving three young hockey players dating from 1971.

Last October, James was charged with nine new sex counts involving three additional teenagers under his influence from the late 1970s into the early '90s.

In the 1990s, the $50 user fee was introduced to partially recover the cost of processing a pardon application.

The latest planned increase, which will be subject to public consultations under the User Fees Act, represents a move to full cost recovery.

In announcing the move, Toews acknowledged it means some people will be better able to afford a pardon than others. He said the government will listen to what Canadians have to say.

"What we are doing is conducting a review at this time," he said.

"I certainly believe in the concept of pardons, they're an absolutely essential part of the rehabilitation of individuals."