Bill Tabled to Expunge Cannabis-Related Criminal Records

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

A new bill has been introduced in the House of Commons to expunge the records of those individuals who have a criminal record for past minor, non-violent marijuana possession convictions.

New Democrat MP Murray Rankin has tabled the private member’s Bill C-415, An Act to establish a procedure for expunging certain cannabis-related convictions. Rankin estimates that more than 500,000 Canadians have a criminal record for personal possession charges for marijuana.

BILL C-415

The new bill proposes to expunge criminal records for those convicted of personal possession crimes that will no longer be considered illegal pursuant to Bill C-45, which comes into effect on October 17, 2018. This bill will also allow those applying for a pardon to not have to wait five to ten years and pay the current $631 fee. Under Rankin’s proposal, the process will be faster and entirely free.

In 2016, 58% of all charges related to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act were related to cannabis, and approximately three quarters of those offences were for possession.

Supporters of Bill C-415 maintain that it is unreasonable to have individuals continue to be unable to attain jobs, volunteer in the community or coach a child’s sports team for doing something that will no longer be illegal in a weeks time.

MP Rankin notes that a disproportionate number of non-violent cannabis-related convictions belong to marginalized or racialized Canadians. He reports:

In Toronto, black people without a criminal record were three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people. In Halifax, five times as likely. In Regina, it’s nine times more often for Indigenous people.

The federal government has made it clear that it will not consider marijuana pardons until after legalization. However, the possibility of doing so has not been ruled out and the government is currently evaluating the legal implications.

RECORD SUSPENSIONS (PARDONS)

A criminal record can be a barrier to attaining a job, volunteering, or going on a vacation out of the country. In order to remove your criminal record from law enforcement databases, you must be granted a Record Suspension (formerly known as a Pardon).

You do not need to apply for a Record Suspension if charges against you were dismissed, stayed or withdrawn, or did not result in a conviction.

Once you have completed your sentence and proven that you are a law-abiding citizen, you may have your record removed from the Canadian Police Information Centre database by being issued a Record Suspension.

Possession of marijuana up to 30 grams is a summary conviction offence. Those convicted of a summary conviction offence (less serious and punishable by shorter prison sentences and smaller fines, without the right to a jury trial) cannot apply for a Record Suspension until at least 5 years have passed since he/she completed his/her imprisonment, paid his/her fines, and completed his/her term of probation.

Canadians convicted of an indictable offence (more serious crimes) cannot apply for a Record Suspension under the Criminal Records Act until at least 10 years have passed since he/she completed his/her term of imprisonment, paid his/her fine, or completed his/her term of probation.

Those who have been convicted of a sexual assault or sexually-related crime or who have been convicted of more than three indictable offences cannot apply for a Record Suspension. The person applying for a Record Suspension also cannot be convicted of a subsequent offence and must prove to the Parole Board that he/she is of good character.

Clearing your criminal record involves three steps and a waiting period. These steps include data collection, data analysis, and the Canadian pardon application.

Prior to submitting your Record Suspension application to the Parole Board of Canada, it can take from 4 to 6 months to prepare the application and obtain the supporting documents.

An application for a record suspension costs $631, and with added fees for documents and records checks, it could cost in excess of $1,600.

If you are granted a Record Suspension, this means that your record is merely sealed. A member of the public cannot check online to see if you have a record, however, certain legal agencies can still access this information under specific legal circumstances.

On October 17, 2018, the Cannabis Act will become law and in Ontario adults who are 19 or older will be permitted to buy, use, possess, and grow recreational cannabis.  However, until legalization comes into effect Canadians will continue to be charged for cannabis offences.

We will continue to provide updates in this blog regarding the proposed bill to expunge criminal records for minor cannabis possession and the legalization of cannabis in Canada as this information becomes available, and will blog about developments as they arise.

In the meantime, if you are facing drug related charges or have any questions concerning your legal rights, please contact Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We maintain a 24-hour call service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.