The Liberal government has introduced its long-awaited legislation that it says will grant fast, free pardons to Canadians carrying a criminal record for possession of cannabis before Canada legalized the drug last October.
Bill C-93 aims to break down barriers to unemployment, housing or travel for Canadians with a criminal record for pot and follows a promise made last fall by Public Security Minister Ralph Goodale and could affect tens of thousands of Canadians.
According to a 2014 study, more than 500,000 Canadians have a criminal record for having pot on their person.
Currently, the fee for a record suspension, or pardon, is $631 and the standard waiting period is five years for a summary offence and 10 years for an indictable offence.
Until the Cannabis Act came into effect last October, simple possession of the drug was punishable by a fine up to $1,000 and six months in jail.
A pardon keeps the record separate from any other crime a person may have committed but does not erase the fact that a person was convicted of a crime.
And that displeases the critics.
They want records expunged–wiped out completely.
“I think this government has an obligation to write the historical wrongs of decades of cannabis prohibition, particularly because the laws were unequally enforced and were primarily against vulnerable and marginalized communities including Indigenous communities and communities of colour,” Toronto lawyer Annamaria Enenajor told The Canadian Press news agency.
According to CP’s Danielle Edwards: “Statistics linking criminal charges and race aren’t routinely gathered in Canada, but separate reports by the Toronto Star in 2017 and Vice News in 2018 found that in several cities where figures were available, black Canadians and Indigenous people were much more likely than white people to be charged with cannabis possession before it was legalized last year. Separate data on drug use indicates that rates of cannabis use differ little among those groups.”
Edwards goes on to quote Goodale as saying expunging criminal records is only an option when a law “violates human rights and should never had existed in the first place.”
“Goodale offered the criminalization of homosexuality as an example, Edwards writes.”
“With respect to cannabis, the law itself was completely valid and constitutional but some people, especially vulnerable and marginalized communities, were impacted disproportionately and unfairly,” Goodale told CP.
“Another reason the government offered for using pardons instead of mass expungements is that records of previous convictions will sometimes have been shared outside Canada, such as with U.S. border guards” Edwards writes,
“A pardon can likewise be shared and will work to the former offender’s benefit; if a record is expunged in Canada, the other jurisdiction’s files won’t necessarily reflect that.”
While Enenajor’s concerns centre on the effects–or ill effects–of people living in Canada, Chang, who is a partner with Dentons Canada, is focused on what happens to Canadians who want to travel to the United States.
I spoke by phone Monday with him in Mexico, where he attending a conference.Listen