Government Announces Legislation to Pardon Pot Possession

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

On March 1, 2019, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale announced new legislation proposed to allow those previously convicted of simple marijuana possession to be pardoned once their sentence is complete.

The Trudeau government introduced Bill C-93, An Act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis, which would amend the Criminal Records Act.

According to Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair, there are approximately 400,000 Canadians with criminal records for simple possession. However, the government expects that there are between 70,000 to 80,000 Canadians eligible to apply for the streamlined pardon process.

WHAT IS BILL C-93?

Bill C-93 proposes to allow those formerly convicted of simple cannabis possession in Canada to apply for a pardon, or record suspension, once their sentence has been served. This proposal will also allow for both the fee ($631) and the five to ten year waiting period to be waived. All individuals would be eligible to apply even if they are not a Canadian citizen or resident of Canada.

The government is hopeful that the elimination of the stigma of a criminal record, in addition to the fee and waiting period for those who have completed their sentence and proven themselves to be law-abiding citizens, will likely increase opportunities for all Canadians.

The Honourable Ralph Goodale describes the proposed legislation as “unique and historic” and stated:

The Cannabis Act’s coming into force marked an important step in the process of legalizing, strictly regulating and restricting access to cannabis in Canada. This proposed legislation will help eliminate what are disproportionate consequences, and reduce barriers to reintegration for Canadians convicted only of simple cannabis possession.

The proposed law would apply to those convicted of simple possession. This refers to those charged with possession of cannabis for personal use, with no intent to traffic (to sell, administer, give, transfer, transport, send or deliver).

The proposed pardon, otherwise known as a record suspension, allows those that have completed their sentence and after they have proven to be law-abiding citizens to have their criminal record removed from the Canadian Police Information Centre database. However, it will not erase the conviction entirely (expungement), but will keep the record separate from other criminal records. The pardon could be reversed if the individual is convicted of new crimes or is “found to no longer be of good conduct”.

A pardon will allow those convicted of simple possession to access educational and employment opportunities, volunteer in their communities, and reintegrate into society.

According to the Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction:

Ensuring timely access to pardons for individuals previously convicted only of simple possession of cannabis will help make things fairer for these Canadians – including visible minority communities, Indigenous communities and those in our most vulnerable neighbourhoods – who should have greater access to employment, volunteering opportunities, educational programs, and housing.

CRITICS ARGUE FOR EXPUNGEMENT

The NDP justice critic Murray Rankin is attempting to improve the proposed bill by pushing for the expungement of cannabis records, rather than the suspension of records for simple possession. An expungement of a criminal record would completely destroy or remove the record of a conviction. Expungement also protects individuals against a future government that may reverse the amnesty proposed by the current government.

MP Rankin had previously tabled a private member’s bill last fall, which we addressed in an earlier blog.

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a University of Toronto sociologist, does not believe that the new bill goes far enough. According to Owusu-Bempah, young people over the last 15 years, especially those of colour, have been overrepresented in arrest statistics involving marijuana. However, his research indicates that those that are black, white and Latino in Toronto consume cannabis at approximately the same rate. He believes that destroying cannabis-possession records entirely is the only way to recognize the “profound historical injustices that have stemmed from the war on drugs and cannabis prohibition in particular, especially how those have affected both marginalized and racialized populations”.

MP Goodale defends the government’s position to allow pardons and not expungements by stating that expungements of a criminal record are only applicable for convictions under laws that have been declared unconstitutional, such as the prohibition of same-sex relations. He also maintains that the proposed pardon process is cheaper and faster than expungement.

We will continue to provide updates in this blog regarding the law with respect to criminal records for simple cannabis possession.

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 offer a free consultation. Trust our experienced lawyers to handle your defence with diligence and expertise.