Richard Cannings has added his voice to a call for the federal government to go beyond setting up a pardoning process for Canadians convicted of minor cannabis-related offences before recreational marijuana use becoming legal in Canada.
He’d like to see their records expunged.
His comments follow the introduction of a private members bill —C-415, An Act to establish a procedure for expunging certain cannabis-related convictions — by Victoria MP Murray Rankin.
The bill would have “the effect of expunging or erasing criminal records for the half million Canadians who have records for the possession of small quantities of cannabis,” Mr. Rankin told the House of Commons on Dec. 7.
Mr. Cannings, the MP for South Okanagan – West Kootenay, joined several of his colleagues in speaking in support of the bill.
Read More: From the Hill — MP Richard Cannings
“It is quite a popular thing in my riding,” Mr. Cannings said of using cannabis products. “It is not everyone who is doing it, but we notice how many people do it. It is not just people of colour or indigenous people, it is everyone. It is business people.”
But, he added, many of those people who smoked or possessed cannabis before its use was declared legal in October were prosecuted for doing it.
“[M]any people in Canada have criminal records simply because they were found in possession of marijuana — something we now say is completely fine,” explained Mr. Cannings. “We are talking about 500,000 Canadians, and some have suggested that it might be as high as over 900,000 Canadians.”
The New Democrats are asking the government to expunge records rather than just provide for a pardoning process.
“[P]ardons are time-consuming and expensive,” he writes in his regular column. “Applicants must wait at least five years after the end of their sentence before applying. From there, they must pay $631 and fill out a lengthy form that requires them to submit information from police stations and local courts.
“After that it usually takes about two years to hear if you’re successful.”
Even then, Mr. Cannings said, legal jeopardy doesn’t end for some people.
“Border agents or police officers will likely be able to see that someone has had a criminal record for possession and a subsequent pardon,” he continues. “What is needed here, what would be a truly just solution, is to eliminate the record altogether — expungement.”
One online legal dictionary defines expungement as a “court-ordered process in which the legal record of an arrest or a criminal conviction is “sealed,” or erased in the eyes of the law.
In June, the House passed Bill C-66, — Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act — introduced as part of the government’s apology to the LGBTQ2 community for decades of state-sponsored systemic discrimination and oppression.
Peter Schiefke, the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for Youth, Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, said crimes related to sexual orientation were expunged because they were “ruled unconstitutional or contrary to the Canadian Human Rights Code.
“However, there are substantive differences between the nature of those offences and cannabis possession, which courts have never found to be constitutionally invalid,” Mr. Schiefke replied.
Mr. Rankin’s bill received second reading in the House on December 7.