Expungement of Certain Cannabis-related Convictions Act

An Act to establish a procedure for expunging certain cannabis-related convictions

Sponsor

Murray Rankin  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Second reading (House), as of Dec. 7, 2018

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-415.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment establishes a procedure for expunging certain cannabis-related convictions and provides for the destruction or removal of the judicial records of those convictions that are in federal repositories and systems.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Expungement of Certain Cannabis-related Convictions ActPrivate Members' Business

December 7th, 2018 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

moved that Bill C-415, An Act to establish a procedure for expunging certain cannabis-related convictions, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House this afternoon to present my private member's bill, Bill C-415. My 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, which became a perfectly legal activity in October of this year.

This is a matter of fundamental justice and I urge all members to support this initiative. I urge government members to keep an open mind and to study the bill and amend it so we can move it forward as quickly and effectively as possible.

As far back as 2012, the Liberal Party passed resolution No. 117 on cannabis legalization and it is curious that it used the words of elimination of all criminal records for simple possession. I am pleased that the Liberal Party agrees with me that expungement and not merely record suspension is what is required in this circumstance.

According to a report commissioned by the Department of Public Safety, fully 86% of those surveyed agreed that completely erasing criminal records for minor offences, particularly cannabis possession, was the right thing to do. Judging by the enormous outburst of editorial support that I am pleased to have received from coast to coast, Canadians get it. They support this initiative because they are fair-minded people who recognize the unfairness inherent in continuing to burden people with the effects of a criminal record for something that is now legal.

I stood yesterday in the House with a prominent aboriginal leader from British Columbia, with people from the John Howard Society and with Senator Pate, the former executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society. They all called on the government to get with this, expunge records and not to rely, as I will explain why, on merely criminal record suspension in this context.

I have three fundamental arguments in the short time available that I would like to make. First, I want to challenge the government's assertion that it will be bringing on immediate pardons. The word “immediate” means now and I will explain why that is simply not possible. Second, I want to address the government's apparent argument that expungement is somehow reserved for only one category of past historical injustices and not things like this. Only record suspensions apparently, in the Liberals' mind, are appropriate in this context. Third, it is important to tell Canadians about how the unjust application of cannabis laws in our country has happened. I think it is undeniable that there has been an injustice.

On the first point about the timing, the government has had several years to address this signature initiative on cannabis legislation. Other jurisdictions like California and Vermont, when they brought in their laws, brought this piece in at the same time and automatically expunged the records for people with convictions for a small quantity of cannabis. The Liberals chose not to do that. They said they should wait for record suspensions, sometimes they called them pardons, and that will happen sometime soon, maybe with legislation introduced, I presume, in the spring.

Canadians know there will be an election in October. They know any initiative has to pass through both Houses and be proclaimed in law, so it is likely that this will not take place until 2020, if my arithmetic is right. When Canadians hear the word “immediate”, they think of something different. I would urge the Liberals to work with my bill and make it better so we can get on with the task that should have been commenced when we brought in legalization in the first place.

The second argument is the arbitrary distinction between expungement reserved for something called historical injustices and pardons for something else. I do not know who is giving legal advice to the Liberals on this point. I have had the good fortune of getting opinions from Benjamin Berger, Professor of Law at Osgoode Hall, and noted constitutional lawyer Professor Kent Roach at the University of Toronto. They see absolutely no distinction in law. I see none in public policy for what the government seems to be insisting upon.

Let me quote from a leading Toronto criminal lawyer, Annamaria Enenajor of the Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty. She said, “the government...leaves the impression that restrictions exist on the government's ability to issue expungements for the offense of simple cannabis possession that are beyond its control. This is false. There is nothing in Canadian law that prohibits our government from issuing expungements for offenses that, in their application, unjustly targeted racialized and indigenous communities. It simply chooses not to. This is a policy decision.”

Professor Kent Roach says that “The charter is the minimum not the maximum in terms of our sense of justice. The government's proposed pardon scheme also reveals larger problems with our pardon system which, among other drawbacks, is conditional on future good behaviour.”

There is no distinction possible, although the government wishes to make it. I urge it to keep an open mind so we can do what is right for Canadians.

That takes me to my third point. The application of this law is a historic initiative to address a historical injustice. It is a fact, and I commend the government for acknowledging that black and indigenous people across this country have been disproportionately burdened with criminal records for possessing small quantities of cannabis. That prevents these people, who are often already more marginalized and impoverished than other citizens, from getting their foot on the social ladder. Why? It is because they now have a record. It means they are last in line when they want to rent an apartment. They are last in line when they want to get a job and have to answer “yes” about having a criminal record.

If that record were expunged, as my bill would do, they could honestly answer that they do not have a criminal record. It would be deemed in law that they do not such a record. Imagine how many thousands of impoverished Canadians we could assist by doing the right thing.

Jaywalking is not an offence under the charter. However, if nine out of 10 people we go after for jaywalking ho are black or indigenous, then it is a charter violation. Again, I commend the government for acknowledging this data as being valid. If someone is indigenous in Regina, they are nine times more likely to be charged and have a record for cannabis than non-indigenous people; and seven times more likely in Vancouver; and if someone is black in Halifax, they are five times more likely to be charged and have a record; and three times more likely if they live in Toronto. This is wrong. This is Canada. We should fix that, and let these people get on with their lives.

I want to address head-on the government's argument about record suspensions. It chooses to call it “pardons”. It does not do the job. What is the difference between a pardon and expungement? An expunged record is erased; it is completely destroyed. Under my bill, the offences would be deemed in law to have never happened. Therefore, a person whose record has been expunged could truthfully say on a job application that they do not have a criminal record. That makes all the difference.

What about a pardon? A pardon merely reclassifies the record. It may still be released, and even revoked, in the future. Most importantly, with a pardon, an individual can still face those obstacles I talked about. Furthermore, a pardon talks about forgiving, by implication, and not expungement, which would be an acknowledgement of the historical injustice in how cannabis laws have been applied in our country.

For a long time, cannabis amnesty has been a policy of the NDP. Since 2004, we have been calling for amnesty for people with records for cannabis possession. My colleague, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, who has done excellent work on this file, introduced a motion in the House asking the government to immediately pardon all criminal records for simple possession. The government said no.

Let me go to the argument I have heard the government use as recently as this morning. It is wrong. When a landlord or employer asks a person if they have a record, the question they are supposed to ask is whether they have ever been convicted for a criminal offence for which a pardon has not been granted. Now, the government says that if there has been a violation of that requirement, they can go to the human rights branch or the human rights tribunal in their province. I do not know whether the government has dealt with people from the inner city.

I used to do legal aid in downtown Toronto. People who are illiterate and do not speak English have enough trouble already. Do we think they are going to get lawyers, with legal aid in this world being so scarce, and take this to the human rights branch? I do not really think so and neither does Samantha McAleese, who is doing her Ph.D. on this very topic at Carleton. She has worked in the inner city of Ottawa with The John Howard Society for many years. She said that many people struggling with criminal records can often have barriers like literacy or language, making these formal complaints to the human rights codes very daunting. She further said that requiring individuals to muster through a complaint process in order to access employment, housing or any other social domain seems quite ridiculous. People with criminal records already face enough barriers in the community and are often already doing everything they can to get by day by day.

Even if the government is right, why would it not go far enough to complete the job with expungement? Even if there is a legal, technical reason for being right, which I urge the government is not the view of the leading criminal and constitutional lawyers I have consulted, why would it not complete the job?

I was so proud to have stood in this House when another expungement initiative took place not long ago: Bill C-66. It was the expungement of what the government termed, and I agree, historically unjust convictions for people convicted in the past for same-sex sexual activity and yet thousands of racialized and marginalized people have also been treated unfairly in the past. I have demonstrated that and the government accepts it.

People have barriers to renting apartments or getting jobs. Mothers from Saskatoon have cried on the phone to me that their child, busted a couple of years for having a couple of joints, cannot coach the soccer team because of these vulnerable people initiatives that require that people not have records for reasons we well understand, dealing with children and so forth. Their lives are also affected by this. After years of injustice, why would the government settle for a process that will not fully relieve the burden of a criminal record? The only way to right the wrong and finally give the half million Canadians a fair chance is expungement, to erase the records for simple possession.

The evidence is pretty clear that the argument about pardons may be good in theory, but in practice, people in the real world do not always ask those precise questions that the government says landlords and employers should be asking, “Have you ever been convicted for a criminal offence for which a pardon has not been granted?”, that magic incantation. In the real world in downtown Ottawa or Toronto, we were told yesterday, people do not always ask those questions and, therefore, people cannot get on with their lives because they have criminal records, they are already the poorest among us often and they are disproportionately indigenous and black Canadians.

It is simply the right thing to do. Why the government did not do it at the time, like other jurisdictions they modelled their legalization on, I do not know, but it is time to do it now and it is time to do it right. A half-measure is not good enough for Canadians. Expungement is the answer. Record suspension does not do the job. Let us get on with it. I urge all members to do the right thing and support my bill in the House.

Expungement of Certain Cannabis-related Convictions ActPrivate Members' Business

December 7th, 2018 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

Spadina—Fort York Ontario

Liberal

Adam Vaughan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families

Madam Speaker, I agree with virtually every point the member opposite has made, in particular, the impact on racialized youth and on the black and indigenous communities of this country. They have been policed in a different way and incarceration records prove it, without a shadow of a doubt.

I am considering supporting this private member's motion because this is a significant issue in many of the communities I represent, but the issue is that not every one of the charges is equal. They have definitely been policed differently, convicted differently and managed by the courts differently, but in some cases, the charges are part of a larger criminal process and criminal set of charges, where expunging the record could have an impact on sentencing and public safety.

I would ask the member opposite to consider that if we start pulling out some of the convictions on very serious charges, possession charges being incidental, we may shorten criminal sentences and certain sentencing provisions and that may create complications around public safety. How would they handle that?

Expungement of Certain Cannabis-related Convictions ActPrivate Members' Business

December 7th, 2018 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Madam Speaker, first, I would like to thank the member opposite for keeping an open mind in considering support of my bill. I appreciate that very much. His recognition of the historical injustice and the disproportionate impact on indigenous and black Canadians is something on which we both have to work harder, as does the the House. This is an opportunity to take a step in that direction.

It is true that often records for small quantities of cannabis go hand in hand with other convictions and the like. There have been such things as plea bargains and all of that, which we need to acknowledge exist in the real world.

In California and other places, the expungement is automatic. People do not need to have these applications. Unfortunately, as a private member's bill, I cannot do that. As members know, we cannot require the government to spend money. If I had my druthers, I would have the government take action and automatically expunge the records for things that are now perfectly legal.

There is a technical issue that can be dealt with, and I am not sure why we cannot do it. The San Francisco district attorney's office has a software program to go through and do this work. I do not see why we cannot figure it out here.

Expungement of Certain Cannabis-related Convictions ActPrivate Members' Business

December 7th, 2018 / 1:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Madam Speaker, I have the privilege of serving on the justice committee with the member for Victoria.

The government has taken the position that it supports a so-called expedited pardon process, but it has not said when or defined what exactly that would look like.

In 2013, the Prime Minister bragged about how he consumed marijuana, yet as the hon. member noted, half a million Canadians have criminal records. Does the member not see a double standard?

Expungement of Certain Cannabis-related Convictions ActPrivate Members' Business

December 7th, 2018 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Madam Speaker, I think my hon. friend would agree would that we work very effectively on the justice committee. It is an honour to serve with him there. Both of us are vice-chairs on that committee and he is a real asset to it.

An expedited pardon process might come along and the government will tell us that it will be free, that it will be fast and so forth. It does not do the trick. It is under-inclusive. If there is any doubt at all, I do not know why the government would not embrace the right thing and expunge.

As for the Prime Minister's acknowledgement, there is an important point here. There was a stigma at a time for same-sex sexual activity, which is no longer the case. There was a stigma for cannabis possession in the past, which is no longer the case, otherwise the Prime Minister would not have acknowledged he did this.

The problem is simple. That person did not get caught. Thousands and thousands, particularly indigenous and black Canadians, did get caught, and they are suffering. He is not. We are not. We should do the right thing and get on with it.

Expungement of Certain Cannabis-related Convictions ActPrivate Members' Business

December 7th, 2018 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

Peter Schiefke Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Youth) and to the Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, Lib.

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-415, an act to establish a procedure for expunging certain cannabis-related convictions.

First, I would like to thank the member for Victoria for his hard work and strong advocacy on this issue. I know he has spoken numerous times with the Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction about this issue. It is something we very much appreciate.

It is clear that the member shares our conviction that some changes need to be made with a new cannabis control regime in place. For nearly a century, the criminal prohibition of cannabis failed to protect youth and led to the highest rates of cannabis use in the world amongst our kids. It also led to billions of dollars in profit for organized crime and created an unhealthy and unsafe situation in all of our communities.

That is why we replaced the criminal prohibition with a far more effective and proportional system of comprehensive cannabis control. While there are no turnkey solutions to righting the wrongs that resulted from that regime, there are now steps we can take to address them.

Bill C-415 would create a method to expunge cannabis possession convictions, regardless of quantity, that are no longer an offence under the Cannabis Act. It proposes a no-charge, application-based process that would allow applicants to provide sworn statements to prove their eligibility. It does not, however, require them to prove their attempts to obtain official supporting documents in doing so.

This bill also proposes that expungement must be granted, so long as the review by the Parole Board of Canada does not reveal any evidence that the activity in question was prohibited under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act or any other act of Parliament.

The approach proposed in Bill C-415 is similar in form to another bill this House passed not long ago, but the nature of the convictions proposed for expungement is quite different. Bill C-66, Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act, received royal assent in June of this year. That legislation was introduced on the occasion of the historic apology to the LGBTQ2 community for decades of state-sponsored systemic discrimination and oppression.

It put in place a new process to permanently destroy records of convictions for offences involving consensual activity between same-sex partners that would be lawful today. The government passed that law so that expungement could be available as a tool to correct a profound historical injustice, where the offence had been 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. That said, clearly we agree with the member for Victoria that individuals who have previously acquired criminal records for some possession of cannabis should be allowed to shed the burden and stigma of that record.

That is why, when the Cannabis Act came into force on October 17, the government announced its intent to introduce legislation that, once in force, would allow individuals to apply for a record suspension, as long as they had completed their sentence. The five-year waiting period would be waived, and record suspension would be immediately eligible. Finally, the unfair $631 fee put in place by the Harper Conservatives would also be waived, and record suspension would be available at no cost to the individual.

As my hon. colleague across the way mentioned, these records have had a disproportionate impact on youth from poor communities, racialized communities and, of course, indigenous communities. Many Canadians also have a criminal record as a result of some youthful indiscretions, and now lead otherwise exemplary lives.

This proposed measure would make affordable record suspensions available to those individuals. It would give them the opportunity to remove the stigma and burden on their lives that results from a criminal record.

Here, I would point out that thanks to the motion by the member for Saint John—Rothesay, the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security has been instructed to undertake a study of the record suspension program formerly known as “pardons”.

The idea behind this study would be, first, to examine the impact of a record suspension to help those with a criminal record reintegrate back into society; second, to examine the impact of criminal record suspension fees and additional costs associated with the application process on low-income applicants; and third, to identify appropriate changes to fees and service standards for record suspension, and to identify improvements to better support applicants for a criminal record suspension.

The committee would be able to study improvements that could be made to the process for record suspensions. However, I am pleased to note that the government's announcement of intent with respect to the legislation on record suspensions for some possession of cannabis reflects the desire to reduce the kinds of barriers reflected in that motion.

Protecting Canadians is our number one concern. We do that by implementing evidence-based criminal justice policies that are proven to support rehabilitation, prevent crime and victimization, and keep our citizens and communities safe. The government's announced intent to introduce new legislation is in keeping with that principle.

Aside from the differences in the proposed approaches, I would like to also point out that Bill C-415 is flawed as it is currently written. Under the bill, the acceptance of a sworn statement to prove eligibility without having to demonstrate attempts to obtain official documents would risk that an expungement could be ordered and records destroyed for ineligible individuals, such as those who have been convicted of possession of far more dangerous uncontrolled substances, such as cocaine.

As currently written, indeed most individuals would not be eligible to apply, as the bill would require that the activity be legal today. All cannabis obtained prior to the coming into force of the Cannabis Act was illicitly possessed, and the possession of illicitly obtained cannabis remains an offence today.

I am grateful that many members in this House feel that people who have been previously convicted for possession of cannabis should be allowed to participate meaningfully in society. They should have access to good, stable jobs. They should have access to housing and education and the ability to participate in the community. For far too long, many thousands of Canadians have faced barriers to those necessities simply for having possessed cannabis. However, values have shifted, and we recognize the failure of prohibition. It has now been over a month since we have had legalized and regulated cannabis, and we see the positive impact of that action.

What we do now to make things as fair as possible for Canadians must be done carefully and diligently. I very much look forward to taking the next steps to help people turn their lives around. Once again, I would like to thank the member opposite for his views on how we can do so. I am also thankful for the opportunity to address this issue today.

Expungement of Certain Cannabis-related Convictions ActPrivate Members' Business

December 7th, 2018 / 1:55 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise on Bill C-415, a private member's bill introduced by my friend the hon. member for Victoria. It is legislation that would expunge the criminal records of Canadians who were convicted for the minor possession of marijuana. The fact that the hon. member for Victoria has had to bring forward a private member's bill around this issue speaks to the fact that once again the Liberals have dropped the ball on the issue of marijuana legalization.

The Prime Minister, during the last election, made it a central platform commitment to legalize marijuana. We on this side disagreed with the position of the Prime Minister, but elections have consequences and enough Canadians voted Liberal and the Prime Minister was elected. Therefore, it was not a surprise that the government decided to move forward with the legalization of marijuana.

It is one thing to have an idea and another to actually implement that idea. What we have seen is time and again the Liberal government has not had a plan when it comes to going about the enforcement and implementation of marijuana legalization. The government had no plan with respect to a public awareness campaign. That was, by the way, a key recommendation of the government's own marijuana task force headed by former deputy prime minister Anne McLellan, and for good reason, because there are serious health risks associated with the consumption of marijuana, particularly for young Canadians, those 25 and under, in terms of brain development impairment among other issues. Where was the government's early and sustained public awareness campaign? There was no public awareness campaign. The Liberals simply dropped the ball.

Then the Liberals had no plan around keeping Canadians safe from drug-impaired drivers. Sure, they introduced Bill C-46, legislation that amended the Criminal Code to bring in drug-impaired driving laws. It is one thing to pass a law and quite another to give law enforcement agencies the tools and resources they need to enforce the law.

Three years ago, there were about as many drug recognition experts as there are today. This is despite the fact that law enforcement agencies, including the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian Police Association, among others, have been begging and pleading with the government to provide the resources so that they can hire more drug recognition experts, which are essential to keep our roads safe. However, instead of listening, the government once again just dropped the ball.

Bill C-46 imposed per se limits around THC. The problem with that is there is not necessarily a clear correlation between THC levels and drug impairment. It is a pretty big problem, but instead of addressing concerns that were raised about the government's approach, the Liberals just shrugged their shoulders as they dropped the ball yet again.

Bill C-46 provided for roadside screening devices to detect drug impairment. The problem was that no device was approved until virtually on the eve of the date that marijuana became legal in Canada. So unreliable is this device that most law enforcement agencies across Canada are not acquiring the device. They are waiting for another, more reliable, device to be approved. Again, the Liberals dropped the ball.

Given a record like that, is it any wonder that when it comes to dealing with the more than half a million Canadians who have criminal records for minor possession, the government has no plan. Again, it has dropped the ball.

The government talks about a so-called expedited pardon process, but it has provided no indication when it plans to introduce legislation. The timeline is completely vague. The government has refused to provide details about what that expedited pardon process would look like. In fact, it seems that while making a commitment to move forward with a pardon process, the Liberals would prefer not to talk about it at all if they can get away with it.

It was not until the member for Victoria called on the government to take action that the government announced it would move forward with some sort of undefined pardon process. As the member for Victoria rightly pointed out, other jurisdictions, including California and Vermont did implement an expungement process at the same time that legalization came into effect.

While one could argue about the merits of expungement versus a pardon versus providing no blanket process at all, what is unacceptable is that the government has refused to be straight with Canadians and tell them honestly where we are going. It just does not have a plan.

It is a little rich that the government has dragged its feet and would prefer not to talk about this issue, given the Prime Minister's, personal history, when in 2013, he bragged about how he used marijuana. He relished the attention he got upon making that pronouncement. Of course, the Prime Minister was not caught. He was not charged or convicted. He does not have the burden of a criminal record. He lives a pretty privileged life. However, as the member of Victoria pointed out, half a million Canadians, including many marginalized Canadians, are burdened with a criminal record for committing an offence that today is perfectly legal.

The time has come for the government to be straight, to come forward and come up with a plan. To date, it has done nothing more than drop the ball. Canadians deserve better.

Expungement of Certain Cannabis-related Convictions ActPrivate Members' Business

December 7th, 2018 / 2:05 p.m.
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NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Madam Speaker, it is indeed a great pleasure to rise today to debate Bill C-415 by my hon. colleague and friend from Victoria. We both hail from Vancouver Island and I really admire the work he has put into this bill.

It is not very often that one gets to debate a private member's bill in this place that would have such significance in how it would change how we approach criminal law and acknowledge past wrongs. One other private member's bill that I can reference, which I think had a major impact, was Bill S-201, brought in by Senator James Cowan to recognize genetic non-discrimination. The Liberal cabinet was opposed to that bill, but virtually the entire Liberal back bench rose and disagreed with the cabinet and voted in favour of the bill. With the combination of the Liberal back bench, the Conservatives and the New Democrats, we passed that bill and it received royal assent.

I very much implore my Liberal colleagues to look at what this bill attempts to do. I know that some have raised concerns about the bill. They may not think it is perfect, but at second reading stage, we are acknowledging the intent of the bill. I think that if they looked into their hearts, they would find it worthy to be sent to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, where we could hear from departmental officials and expert witnesses, many of whom the member for Victoria has already quoted. That is where we can look at the language and technical jargon of the bill to see if some of the concerns can be addressed. However, let us at least send this bill to committee. I think this is a very important moment.

Last year, I had the pleasure of giving the NDP's response at second reading to Bill C-45, in my capacity as the justice critic then. I acknowledged that the bill was not perfect and there was a lot of fulsome debate on its merits. My colleague, the member for Vancouver Kingsway said it right, that Bill C-45 did not really legalize cannabis; it just made it less illegal. There are some strict limits that if someone steps outside of, the full weight of the law will still come down on them.

Nevertheless, I think that even my Conservative colleagues can realize that there has been a sea change in public opinion in Canada with regard to cannabis possession. The public has realized that the continued criminalized approach to cannabis possession is wrong. Far too many people suffered under it and, in fact, the continuation of a criminalized approach would actually cause more harm than the use of the drug itself. They have recognized that.

When looking at many of the arguments that Liberal members made in support of Bill C-45, not the least of which was by the Minister of Justice, one of the reasons they cited was that thousands of Canadians end up with criminal records for a non-violent minor cannabis offence each year. I will quote the minister. In her second reading speech on Bill C-45, the Minister of Justice said:

A majority of Canadians no longer believe that simple possession of small amounts of cannabis should be subject to harsh criminal sanctions, which can have lifelong impacts for individuals and take up precious resources in our criminal justice system. Our government agrees that there is a better approach.

I could not agree more with what the Minister of Justice said last year during that second reading debate on this.

There are roughly 500,000 Canadians who have criminal records for cannabis possession. That means that if one were to take a room of 60 people, one person in that room would probably have have a record for cannabis possession. We acknowledge that that has far-reaching consequences. We know that it has affected marginalized and racialized populations disproportionately more than average Caucasian Canadians. That is borne out by the evidence collected in each province and many of our major cities.

Another big issue is that the government came to power with a promise to legalize cannabis. That promise was adopted at the 2012 Liberal policy convention. Therefore, I think that the Canadian public has known for quite some time that this was coming.

As my friend the member for St. Albert—Edmonton said, elections have consequences, and the Liberal government did fulfill that one promise. However, I have an issue with the length of time that it took. We needed the task force to present its report. We then finally had Bill C-45 introduced in April 2017. It received royal assent and came into force only on October 17 of this year. There was plenty of time for the Liberal government to deliberate on the subject and on the consequences that criminal possession has on people's lives. We have this strange binary situation where a person who possessed cannabis on October 16 received a criminal record, but a person who had it on October 17 was perfectly fine.

It is quite amazing what has happened in this country. One can now possess up to 30 grams in public. People can now grow their own plants. Even though there are still very real consequences with the over-consumption of cannabis and whether it is getting into the hands of children, I think we can very much agree that the continued criminal approach to the issue was wrong. It was using up precious resources and it was in no way effectively dealing with the problem.

When we look at the intent of Bill C-415, I very much admire the word “expungement”, because it has an air of permanence about it. It is very much different from a record suspension. As the member for Victoria very clearly laid out, a record suspension is simply setting aside the record. It does not protect the individual in any way from having that reapplied sometime in the future. Indeed, the individual would very much have to prove that he or she is worthy of that happening. However, an expungement allows an individual to truthfully answer the question of whether the individual has a criminal record that he or she does not have one, because expungement makes it as if it never happened in the first place.

We can look at the statistics, specifically with reference to indigenous people in Canada. In Vancouver, indigenous people were seven times more likely than white people to be arrested. In Regina, it was as high as nine times. If we are trying to address a historical wrong, a very real case of social injustice, I think expungement is absolutely the way we should be going.

The Liberals have raised concerns. They have said that they wished to reserve expungement for activities that have been found to be unconstitutional. The parliamentary secretary made reference to Bill C-66, which, absolutely, every member in the House was in support of. However, I have to repeat that the member for Victoria clearly outlined that reserving expungement for activities that have been found to be unconstitutional is simply an arbitrary distinction and has no legal or principled foundation. This is basically a government making up its own rules. I would ask the Liberals to point to any specific case law that underlies their arguments for this, because, trust me, they will not be able to find it.

The Liberals would also like to say that pardoning people will work, because they are going to make pardons free and immediate. I appreciate the fact that the application process will be removed and that the fee will be waived, but right now, the only legislation that actually exists on the books to address this issue, at the end of 2018, three years into the Liberal government's mandate, is Bill C-415 from the member for Victoria.

The Liberals also agree that the process needs to be fair, but they have other doubts about the bill. The bill has been consulted on widely with academics and members of the legal community. I again appeal to my Liberal colleagues to not throw the baby out with the bathwater. If they have difficulties with the technical aspects of this bill, with the language, surely they can understand the intent behind the bill and surely they can find it within their hearts to send the bill to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights where we can make the necessary amendments so that it is reported back to the House in a form they can support.

I look forward to voting on this bill. Again, I congratulate my friend and colleague, the member for Victoria, for bringing in this fantastic piece of legislation.

Expungement of Certain Cannabis-related Convictions ActPrivate Members' Business

December 7th, 2018 / 2:15 p.m.
See context

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I will keep my remarks relatively brief. At first blush it is quite understandable why my colleague has brought forward Bill C-415. When he talked about the difficulties of some being able to express themselves on a pardon as opposed to an expungement, I was intrigued. In principle, there are many different sorts of criminal activities that take place where a pardon has been issued. I suspect that the same challenges in principle would be there for those other individuals who have a pardon that is already in place.

If one wanted to be somewhat consistent, one could ultimately argue what would be the value of having pardons. I believe there is value to pardons. The minister has talked about issues such as pardons being quick and free with no waiting times. This is a commitment the government has made with respect to pardons. Pardons are, for all intents and purposes, packaged away, put in a box, never again to be reopened unless there is another criminal activity that takes place by the individual in question. At least that is my understanding of the situation.

That is why I was somewhat intrigued by his comments when he talked about the individuals who would find it difficult and he used the example of an application for a job. I am very sympathetic to that argument, unfortunately there were not enough questions and answers. I would have liked the member to provide an answer to me on that point. It is more the principle of the matter.

We have gone a long way in recognizing how far we have come in the last number of years. We have a Prime Minister who saw a significant social issue that affected millions of Canadians. In a very responsible fashion, working through the ministers and most members of the House, we were able to bring forward the legalization of cannabis. Since it has been legalized, I have not had one issue or concern from my constituents related to this.

Given the very nature and the magnitude of the change that has been put into place, I see that as an example of how well the government is working with many other stakeholders, because it is not just the Government of Canada. We have to recognize that there are other jurisdictions, in particular our provinces and territories, and there was a great deal of effort with first responders and many other stakeholders to ensure that the launching of a responsible social policy was done in the fashion that it was. As a society, we have benefited by the legalization of cannabis.

There is a lot more that I would like to say, but I understand there is a member across the way who was hoping to speak, so I will end my remarks.

Expungement of Certain Cannabis-related Convictions ActPrivate Members' Business

December 7th, 2018 / 2:20 p.m.
See context

NDP

Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Madam Speaker, to answer the member's comment about a pardon versus an expungement, an expungement can be used, and should be used, when there is a historical injustice in how a criminal record was obtained. A pardon can be used for any criminal record, but an expungement is what we need for a criminal record that came about because of a historical injustice. I will talk about that in my speech.

I would first like to again thank the member for Victoria for bringing this important bill forward. I think it is something Canadians want. He has stepped into the breach where the government has failed to go, even though it had plenty of time to get ready for this, as we have been planning for the legalization of marijuana for many years.

I will start off by saying that there are a lot of people in my riding who use cannabis and who used cannabis before it became legal. This is obviously true in many ridings. We all carry out some unofficial polling when we go door to door, and one of the things we notice when we go door to door in my riding is how many people use cannabis. It is quite a popular thing in my riding. 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.

The whole point of this bill on expungement is that in the past, arrests for simple possession of marijuana were disproportionately handed out to marginalized Canadians. Young Canadians, black Canadians and indigenous Canadians are by far the people who have suffered the most for this. That is one of the reasons expungement is much more appropriate than a simple pardon.

As other people have said, many people in Canada have criminal records simply because they were found in possession of marijuana, something we now say is completely fine; it is legal, it should not have happened before, so let us get on with it. We are talking about 500,000 Canadians, and some have suggested that it might be as high as over 900,000 Canadians. This is not something that is relegated to the dark criminal backwaters of Canada. This is the bulk of Canadian society. It has left people with criminal records. They cannot cross the border. They have difficulty finding work, in many cases. They cannot even volunteer. A lot of times, if they want to coach a soccer team for their kid's school, they demand a criminal record check, and they cannot do that. It really affects the lives of Canadians, Canadians who we now say have done nothing wrong.

As I said, the government has had a lot of time leading up to this to prepare its legislation. Other jurisdictions, such as California, Delaware, Vermont, and I think North Dakota, are moving in this direction. They are bringing expungement provisions into their legalization legislation. However, the current government has not. We have been pressing it to have something like this since we began sitting in this Parliament. Now it is saying that maybe next year it will bring legislation that will make it easier for people to apply for a pardon.

I want to go back to the point that it is really marginalized Canadians who have been hit hard. That is why expungement is the way to go. As other people have said, someone who is indigenous is nine times more likely to be arrested for simple possession in Regina and seven times more likely in Vancouver. A black person is five times more likely to be arrested in Halifax and three times more likely in Toronto. These simple possession arrests disproportionately affect people of colour, indigenous people and young people.

I can quote what government members have said with respect to this. The Prime Minister said this:

People from minority communities, marginalised communities, without economic resources, are not going to have that kind of option to go through and clear their name in the justice system. That's one of the fundamental unfairnesses of this current system is that it affects different communities in a different way.

The Minister of Border Security said that “the failed system of criminal prohibition has resulted in the criminalization of hundreds of thousands of Canadians and contributed to an unjust disparity and impact on vulnerable communities.” The Minister of Public Safety said that “the law as it stands today has been an abject failure”. The MP for Hull—Aylmer said, “We do know that black Canadians have been disproportionately charged with and are imprisoned for possession of small amounts of cannabis.”

Much of the cabinet is admitting that this is what has been going on, but this can only be justly dealt with through a simple expungement of all of those criminal records so that these people can get on with their lives and get work or cross the border. In Toronto, 15% of people on social welfare say that their cannabis possession records are a key barrier to their getting work. We all want those people to work and to take part in this economy and society. However, that is the barrier they are facing, and only an expungement would help with it.

I see that I do not have much time left. The government says that it is going to bring in pardons. time. I will just say—

Expungement of Certain Cannabis-related Convictions ActRoutine Proceedings

October 4th, 2018 / 10:10 a.m.
See context

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-415, an act to establish a procedure for expunging certain cannabis-related convictions.

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to introduce today a bill that would expunge the records of certain cannabis-related convictions. Over 500,000 Canadians have a criminal record for cannabis possession. That is 500,000 Canadians who may be barred from finding employment, from volunteering in their communities and from finding a place to rent, all for non-violent action that will soon be perfectly legal.

I also emphasize that not all Canadians have been treated equally under our cannabis laws. In Toronto, black people without a criminal record were three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people. In Halifax, they were five times as likely to be arrested, and in Regina it happens nine times more often to indigenous people.

This bill would allow people to wipe from their records all cannabis convictions for things that will be perfectly legal within two weeks. Under the current broken pardons system, Canadians have to wait several years and pay $631 just to apply. Under my bill, they would not have to wait several years, and it would be completely free.

This bill is about righting past wrongs, and it would help hundreds of thousands of Canadians to get on with their lives.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)