An Act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis


Ralph Goodale  Liberal


Second reading (House), as of April 8, 2019

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

This enactment amends the Criminal Records Act to, among other things, allow persons who have been convicted under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Narcotic Control Act and the National Defence Act only of simple possession of cannabis offences committed before October 17, 2018 to apply for a record suspension without being subject to the period required by the Criminal Records Act for other offences or to the fee that is otherwise payable in applying for a suspension.


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.


April 11, 2019 Passed Time allocation for Bill C-93, An Act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis

Expungement of Certain Cannabis-related Convictions ActPrivate Members' Business

April 11th, 2019 / 6:05 p.m.
See context


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking my colleague from Trois-Rivières. He gave a passionate speech, although it did come a little early.

I want to thank my colleague as well, the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, for his very passionate and clear support for my initiative. I am grateful to him for the clarity and for demonstrating the very obvious distinction that the government seems to wish to gloss over between what are now called record suspensions or pardons, and the notion of expungement, which, of course, is at the heart of my bill.

As a private member's bill, members would know that I was not able to talk about the automatic expungement, because that would cost money and private members' bills are not allowed to do that. Therefore, I was left with an application process of my own. What troubles me is that the government is trying to conflate expungement and pardon as if there were no difference, and to make an argument, frankly a legally baseless argument, that expungement is somehow to be reserved, as the Liberals have chosen to do with Bill C-66, for activities that violate the charter. First of all, as I pointed out in my speech on Bill C-93 on Monday, going through a number of scholars like Professor Roach, Professor Berger and others, there is absolutely no distinction for that. More importantly, the government itself continues to acknowledge that it has no choice; it is from government records.

However, this law, which has been around since 1922, the prohibition on cannabis, has had a disproportionate impact on indigenous people and black people in particular. The government admits that, yet the Liberals are content to stand here six months after they brought in the law that made cannabis legal, in essentially the dying days of Parliament, to bring forward a half measure that likely will not get on the order book. It is something they can check off, I presume, during the campaign. Whether it gets through the Senate, the House and all of its committees before then, I have my doubts. Nevertheless, they have chosen to do this. This has an impact on real people's lives. The government acknowledges that, but the Liberals are prepared nevertheless to do this application process.

The Liberals pejoratively say that I recommended there be an army of summer students. I did no such thing. There are ways to deal with it. If it costs money and it is inconvenient, let us talk about what it means to that black person in Toronto who cannot get his or her foot on the social ladder and has to perhaps be on social assistance, or that indigenous person who cannot rent an apartment because they have a criminal record. The government will say that the Canadian Human Rights Act has an answer for that, but that is not living in the real world, as far as I can tell. It is disappointing.

With regard to the government's initiative, the welcome that it is waiving the fees and making it faster, I would characterize it as a good first step. However, it is too little and it is certainly too late. It is disappointing that we here on this, and it is disappointing that the government has not done the full measure. I was hoping that my bill could go to committee along with Bill C-93, and people of goodwill could try to find a solution which would involve expungement, and make the changes that even the government admits are necessary. However, this measure simply will not do the job.

Expungement of Certain Cannabis-related Convictions ActPrivate Members' Business

April 11th, 2019 / 5:50 p.m.
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Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Mr. Speaker, this evening's debate on Bill C-415, An Act to establish a procedure for expunging certain cannabis-related convictions, gives me the chance I have long sought to make a clear statement in the House of Commons as to the principles that underlie my long-standing views on cannabis legalization.

I have favoured the legalization of marijuana since I first sought elected office. My views on the subject were first expressed at a policy conference in 2001 and were published in Policy Options the same year, but I have always couched my arguments in practical rather than in abstract terms.

Here today, I can express my underlying belief. I believe today, as I did when I first published on the subject 18 years ago, that it is morally wrong to criminalize the personal use of any substance when the said use or misuse of that substance would cause no harm to any person other than the user himself or herself. When no person is victimized other than the person who is engaged in the act, then it is a moral evil for the state to penalize the person who engages in that act.

This principle would apply even if it were the case that none of the following were true.

The principle would apply even if it were not true, for example, that some people suffer from trauma that causes them to make impulsive choices, especially with regard to mood-altering substances. When these individuals are penalized, the law in effect singles out for punishment those who have suffered the abusive behaviour of parents or partners, or the trauma of war, or fetal alcohol syndrome, or simple brain trauma.

The principle that victimless acts should never be punishable would apply even if it were not true that some people are endowed from birth with genes such as the NRXN3 gene, which in 2011 was identified as being associated with a greater likelihood of becoming addicted, in which case the law is singling out for prosecution those who have lost the genetic lottery.

The principle would apply even if it were not true that those who have greater influence and power are far less likely to be prosecuted than an average Canadian who has committed the same offence. A case that makes this point is that of the Prime Minister's brother, Michel Trudeau, who escaped prosecution for marijuana possession 21 years ago because of the intervention of his father, who at the time was himself a former prime minister.

Here is how our current Prime Minister put this in a speech two years ago. He reported that back in 1998, his father, Pierre Trudeau:

...reached out to his friends in the legal community, got the best possible lawyer and was very confident that he was going to be able to make those charges go away,…

We were able to do that because we had resources, my dad had a couple of connections, and we were confident that my little brother wasn't going to be saddled with a criminal record for life.

The principle that no one should be punished for a victimless act would be true even if it were not the case that disadvantaged Canadians, who are statistically more likely than their fellow citizens to be caught and prosecuted and saddled with a criminal record, are far likelier to be members of social or racial groups that appear to be marginalized in other ways too. Two widely cited statistics in this regard are from Halifax, where black people have historically been five times more likely than white people to be arrested for cannabis possession; and Regina, where indigenous persons have been nine times more likely than white people to be arrested for this offence. This would appear to be the very definition of systemic racism, regardless of the proximate cause for each individual arrest.

Of course, the foregoing examples of inequity really do exist, and therefore the provision of the Criminal Code prohibiting the possession of small quantities of marijuana, which happily is now repealed, was wrong at all of these levels too.

If the underlying offence ought never to have been an offence in the first place—which is not merely what I feel but what has already been decided by Parliament when it enacted the Cannabis Act a year ago—then it stands to reason that the retention of any long-term penalty, such as a criminal record for the formerly unlawful activity, must be wrong for exactly the same reasons. That is true whether it is a charter-protected right that we are talking about or whether it is merely the practical impact on some groups that have been discriminated against in the application of the law. It is true even when that is not the issue, but simply the case that a law was fundamentally wrong.

To be clear, the retention of criminal records for persons who used marijuana when it was a criminal offence represents an ongoing injustice that ought to be remedied.

Quite frankly, a provision expunging the records of persons found guilty of possessing less than 30 grams of cannabis ought to have been included in the Cannabis Act. Why it was not, particularly given the heartfelt civil libertarian sentiment that must have been the motivation for the Prime Minister to share the story about his father and brother, remains a mystery to me.

I note that in other jurisdictions that have legalized the non-therapeutic use of cannabis, such as California and Vermont, provisions expunging the records of those convicted under the repealed statutes are a part of the repeal legislation itself. It is now too late for Canada to make a perfect copy of this enlightened example, but it is not too late for us to correct the oversight. Bill C-415 is an effective and well-designed instrument for achieving an end to this lingering injustice.

About 500,000 Canadians, which is somewhere between 1% and 2% of our adult population, have criminal records for the possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal consumption. The bill would expunge their records.

An expungement is not quite the same thing as a pardon or record suspension. It differs in a number of ways. For one thing, a pardon must be formally requested. Any person can apply for a pardon, but only after waiting for a period of not less than five years, and only upon the payment of a fee of just over $600. Expungement would be immediate and costless.

I am aware that the government recently proposed a measure of its own in an apparent effort to supersede Bill C-415. The government bill, Bill C-93, has a title that tells the entire story of what the government is proposing: an act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspension for simple possession of cannabis. In short, Bill C-93 would remove the five-year waiting period and would eliminate the $600 fee.

As far as it goes, I think this is good, and if the bill comes up for a second reading vote, I will vote for it in principle. However, Bill C-93 does not go far enough, because a record suspension is not an expungement.

Let me show members how they differ.

As everyone knows, American border control officials reserve the right to ask Canadians who are crossing the border if they have a criminal record for using marijuana. Canadians are regularly turned back at the border if the answer is yes. Everybody should know that if people answer this question untruthfully and lie to an official of the immigration service while on American soil, as people are when at a land crossing, as opposed to the Toronto or Vancouver airport, they can be arrested on the spot.

If records are expunged, but not if pardons are issued, it would be possible for people to answer truthfully, whether travelling by land or air, that they do not have a criminal record for this former offence. This is a meaningful distinction.

I hold no remit for marijuana itself. I never used it unlawfully when it was banned and I have never used it since. I care only about sensible, generous laws and about doing all that we can as lawmakers to make Canada a place where nobody is punished for actions that hurt no one else, and where no person faces long-term penalties for actions that we now think should never have been unlawful in the first place.

I congratulate the sponsor of the bill and I plan to vote in favour of his excellent proposal.

Expungement of Certain Cannabis-related Convictions ActPrivate Members' Business

April 11th, 2019 / 5:45 p.m.
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Kanata—Carleton Ontario


Karen McCrimmon LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the debate on Bill C-415, an act to establish a procedure for expunging certain cannabis-related convictions. I thank the hon. member for Victoria for his involvement in this file.

I know that we have different points of view on the terms, but we agree that people with criminal records for possession of cannabis should no longer have to deal with obstacles when it comes to employment or housing or any other aspect of their life.

We committed to legalizing and regulating cannabis as part of our platform for the last election. We upheld that commitment, and last October the new system took effect. At that time, we said we would introduce legislation to make it easier for people with criminal records left over from the old regime to have those records cleared. We have upheld that commitment too with Bill C-93, which was debated earlier this week.

It is worth remembering that while we were advocating for legalization, the NDP was merely calling for decriminalization. In other words, if the NDP had had their way, cannabis prohibition would still be in effect, and people found to be in possession of cannabis would be getting hefty fines. That would obviously be a bad idea, because many of the people who have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition are from marginalized and low-income communities.

Instead of adding to their financial burden, we have proposed legislation that will eliminate the fee to the Parole Board to apply for a pardon, which is normally $631. As well, we have proposed eliminating the waiting period, which can be as long as 10 years. Under our proposal, the pardon application will be reviewed and decided expeditiously by Parole Board staff, rather than being referred to an appointed Parole Board member for review, as is the current process. The usual subjective criteria, like evaluating whether the applicant has been of good conduct and whether the pardon will bring them a measurable benefit will not apply. Plus, the Parole Board will implement an outreach strategy that will involve community partners and civil society organizations to help people take advantage of this new process.

Once a successful pardon is issued, the relevant authorities will be notified and the record will be sealed. It will not show up during a criminal record check, and can be reopened only in extraordinary circumstances, such as the commission of a new criminal offence.

The bill proposed by the member for Victoria would use the mechanism called expungement rather than expedited pardons. As I said during debate on Monday, the practical effect of expungement is for all intents and purposes the same as a pardon, unless the person commits a new offence. At that point, they are going to have a criminal record again anyway, so the reinstatement of the old cannabis possession conviction will have minimal impact.

When it comes to international travel, expungement may cause unnecessary complications. For example, if the United States had previously noted a person's conviction in its records, they could still have that information, despite one's pardon or expungement. If U.S. authorities ask someone to provide evidence of their pardoned conviction, they can get that from the Parole Board. With expungement, there would likely be no Canadian records to provide.

We created expungement as a concept in Canadian law last year as a way to deal with historic convictions for consensual sexual activity between same-sex partners. That was a situation of grave injustice, where the law at issue itself was a violation of fundamental human rights and contrary to the charter.

That is distinct from the situation we are discussing today. The criminalization of cannabis was a bad idea, but it was not a charter violation. Nevertheless, because of its differential impacts on racialized communities, we have proposed a dramatically expedited pardons process. The NDP has also called on us to follow the example of some American jurisdictions that have moved to automatically clear past misdemeanour convictions for possession of cannabis.

In Canada, while federal records are held by the RCMP, there are also records, including paper records, held by provinces in local police offices and local courts. Going through all those records to find all the drug possession convictions and then digging into the details of each conviction to determine whether the substance involved was cannabis is a process that would take years.

There was a suggestion on Monday that we hire an army of summer students to go through hundreds of thousands of police and court records in cities and towns across the country. I could not tell whether it was serious or not. The fact is that an application-based process will result in people getting their records cleared much faster.

After careful and deliberate consideration, we chose a streamlined pardons process as the best approach. Under the bill that we have proposed, Bill C-93, there would be no waiting period and no application fee. Applications would be dealt with through an expedited administrative process, with no subjective criteria. People who have served sentences for simple possession of cannabis with nothing else on their records would get their pardons, full stop.

Once again, I want to thank the member for Victoria for his work, his contributions to this discussion and his thoughtful concern for the people of his riding and across this country. I know we have a difference of opinion about the modalities, but we share the objective of letting people who have criminal records for simple possession of cannabis move on with their lives. Those individuals should be able to get jobs, find places to live, study and travel without the burden of a criminal record for an activity that is now legal. We are all better off when people living law-abiding lives can put their criminal records behind them and contribute fully to our communities. I look forward to the passage of the government's bill, Bill C-93, which would allow for exactly that.

Bill C-93—Time Allocation MotionCriminal Records ActGovernment Orders

April 11th, 2019 / 10:55 a.m.
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Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, the answer is very simple. As I have said, a pardon system deals with conviction. The Parole Board is able to see if there was a criminal conviction and see the offence for which the individual was convicted. If it was simple possession of cannabis, the individual would be eligible for a pardon under the provisions of C-93.

I have taken thousands of these cases to court, and plea bargains do take place. However, the criminal record is part of our law. It is an acknowledgement of a charge for which an individual has been convicted in a court of law. We are dealing with those convictions.

Bill C-93—Time Allocation MotionCriminal Records ActGovernment Orders

April 11th, 2019 / 10:50 a.m.
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Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are a number of estimates with respect to the total number of people who have been convicted of this offence in the history of Canada. I have seen numbers. I do not have the data, because, quite frankly, as I said, these are not indictable records and they are not kept in a central national database.

We have seen estimates of 400,000 or 500,000. We believe that the overwhelming majority of people who have these convictions received an absolute or a conditional discharge, which did not have the effect of removing the conviction but discharges the record. Therefore, it is still important for those individuals who may not understand that they have a record to know that there is an opportunity for them to come forward and have a pardon issued for that record that in fact does exist.

One of the challenges, as I have mentioned, and one of the reasons we believe the pardon system as articulated in Bill C-93 is so important, is that these records do not reside in a single national database and are not verifiable by fingerprint. They reside in provincial and territorial databases, and it is therefore necessary for an individual to come forward and make application under the proposed system in Bill C-93 so that we can properly identify that record and deal with it in an appropriate way through a pardon system.

Bill C-93—Time Allocation MotionCriminal Records ActGovernment Orders

April 11th, 2019 / 10:40 a.m.
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Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted that we have finally met somebody on that side of the House who would actually like to speak about the budget. I point out to the member that in the 2019 budget, $2 million is allocated to support the provisions of Bill C-93.

In addition, with respect to the pardon system, the member may know that the pardon deals with the record that was registered as a result of our judicial processes. Therefore, the offence for which a person was found guilty is what constitutes the record.

By the way, that has been the way with the record suspension system, as implemented by the previous government. It has been the pardon system in this country for over a century. The pardon system deals with the record as it exists, and that is what we are talking about.

The only records that are included in Bill C-93 are those records for simple possession of cannabis. That is clearly defined in subsection 3(2) of the old Narcotic Control Act for those who have convictions prior to 1982, and then in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Those are the records that are dealt with in Bill C-93, and only those records.

Bill C-93—Time Allocation MotionCriminal Records ActGovernment Orders

April 11th, 2019 / 10:40 a.m.
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Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, notwithstanding the insulting remarks by the member opposite, I am happy to answer the question.

In Bill C-93 there is already a clear articulation that a cannabis conviction would be subject to expungement, provided it meets certain conditions. If there are other criminal convictions within the same period of time, they would not be impacted by this legislation. However, we also know that very many Canadians have it as their only conviction.

As I said, I personally know, as I think everyone in this House likely knows, people who have otherwise led exemplary lives, but perhaps as a result of a youthful indiscretion have been caught. I have heard a number of members of this House, including the Leader of the Opposition, acknowledge that as youths they broke the law and used this drug. They were just fortunate enough not to get caught. For those who were caught, the consequences of that criminal record can have a lifelong impact upon them.

We believe it is appropriate to move forward on a system of making pardons accessible to them, regardless of whether they can afford it—to make sure they can have this remedy, a fresh start, and receive a pardon so that they can move forward with their lives in an appropriate way.

Bill C-93—Time Allocation MotionCriminal Records ActGovernment Orders

April 11th, 2019 / 10:35 a.m.
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Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is very clear in Bill C-93 that we speak very specifically to a certain set of offences.

On October 17 of last year, legislation came into effect that fulfilled our promise to legalize and strictly regulate the production and distribution of cannabis. We have done that for a number of reasons, but overwhelmingly, our intent is to reduce social harm, to do a better job of protecting our kids, to displace the criminal market from this enterprise, to protect the health and safety of Canadians and to provide the opportunity to individuals with records to have those records properly pardoned so that they can get on with their lives. We deal with regulatory offences in a far more effective, far more proportional and far more appropriate way.

It is an acknowledgement of that significant change and the way in which we control cannabis in this country that we believe it is absolutely appropriate, and I believe we have agreement on this, for individuals who have such records, who otherwise have led exemplary lives, to be pardoned of those records so that they might get on with their lives.

Credit Card Fairness ActPrivate Members' Business

April 10th, 2019 / 6:35 p.m.
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Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, it always a pleasure to rise to support a colleague's bill, especially when that colleague is the hon. member for Victoria. I admire the way he manages files and provides pertinent answers to our questions when we are discussing the matter with him. I must admit, he has a talent for getting to the heart of the issue.

One thing that is seriously starting to grate on me after nearly eight years in the House of Commons is having to say that a bill is a step in the right direction. It is as though we are never able to fully resolve an issue and close a file and say that the matter is resolved and we can tackle another problem and find the best solutions.

That is exactly what the member for Victoria has done with this bill, however; he even stated what he sadly cannot do within the confines of a private member's bill. Nevertheless, he still very much hopes that Bill C-415 will get the ball rolling and motivate the government to either add what he was not able to include and pass this bill or, alternatively, overhaul Bill C-93, the counterpart of this bill that, to my mind, is not up to snuff.

After speaking with my colleague from Victoria, I was preparing a theoretical and even intellectual presentation on the merits of expunging records for simple possession of cannabis compared to the suspension of records. However, reality caught up with me in my riding. I will therefore provide an overview of a case I had to deal with in my own riding and which clearly shows, in black and white, that the government's Bill C-93 does not go far enough and that Bill C-415 really does take a step in the right direction. I do not believe you could find a better example.

I got a phone call from one of my constituents who was in a bit of a panic. Actually, it was a complete panic. I will not name names or say anything that would give away this person's identity, but he is a musician. I have a soft spot for those in the music business because I was a musician myself for many years. This particular musician is on an international tour with a band. They have played in England, several European countries, and many cities across Canada. Now the band is set to play 15 or 20 American cities. Things are going well. It is probably the best tour of this musician's career. A musician's life is not necessarily easy and it is not always a very lucrative career either. Artists really have to have a strong conviction that they are making an essential contribution to society.

Everything is going well for this musician. The whole group, both the musicians and the trucks with the equipment, arrive at the American border. They fill out the necessary paperwork and cross the border. Everyone gets through no problem except for this individual, because border officials saw that he had been charged with simple marijuana possession 25 years ago for one gram of cannabis that he forgot was in his pocket. He is barred from entering the U.S. The band is supposed to play 15 to 20 shows in the United States and they have just lost one of their musicians. They either have to find a replacement or cancel that leg of the international tour because this individual was charged for the possession of one gram of marijuana 25 years ago.

Obviously, the conviction happened 25 years ago and it is on his record. It is not difficult to imagine how someone could forget this after 25 years. It is kind of laughable, especially since society has evolved in the meantime.

This musician is therefore unable to do the tour. He called me to ask how this situation could be fixed as quickly as possible so that he could join the band for the rest of the American tour, since this record did not cause problems anywhere else in the world.

There are all kinds of conditions that you have to meet. You cannot request a pardon until at least five years have passed since the conviction. After 20 years, that condition is fairly easy to meet. Then, you must pay $631 to apply. Whether this amount is high or not high enough is a matter of perspective, as it is directly linked to the individual's annual income. For a musician, $631 could easily represent one or two shows where he is working for the Crown and not for his family or himself. In addition, he has to track down certain documents, like police reports and legal documents. This takes time, and deciding whether he can continue the tour is a time-sensitive decision.

To top it all off, you have to wait 24 months for a response. There is your answer for the American part of the tour. This is a real problem, since Parliament decided this was no longer a relevant issue in 2019. We legalized simple possession of marijuana. The whole time that this government was preparing the legislation, it never bothered to consider what would happen the day after this bill passed.

How do we make sure that a crime that is not considered a crime anymore no longer weighs on people who committed it in the past? If society has evolved to the point of recognizing marijuana as legal, there is no reason in the world to make people suffer permanently for doing something that is no longer seen as a crime. However, their records live on.

If we go with the record suspension approach proposed in the government's Bill C-93, it would be too little, too late, because the suspension would not make the criminal record disappear. The name says it all. The record is suspended. I will admit that the government is showing openness by eliminating the fee to apply for a record suspension. In contrast, the process of expungement is very clear. With expungement, all existing files relating to the conviction are erased, and the slate is wiped clean, as if the crime had ever happened. That also enables anyone with such a conviction on their record to answer “no” with perfect confidence and honesty whenever they are asked if they have a criminal record, because the record has basically disappeared and the offence is deemed never to have been committed. That is an important difference proposed in Bill C-415.

My time is almost up. I had so much more to talk about, but the case I mentioned is probably more compelling than anything I could say. I urge all members to make sure they really understand the difference between expungement and suspension and to support the bill introduced by my colleague from Victoria.

Bill C-93—Notice of Time AllocationCriminal Records ActGovernment Orders

April 8th, 2019 / 6:25 p.m.
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Waterloo Ontario


Bardish Chagger LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I would like to advise that agreements could not be reached under the provisions of Standing Orders 78(1) or 78(2) with respect to the second reading stage of Bill C-93, An Act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis. Therefore, under the provisions of Standing 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the Crown will propose at the next sitting a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of proceedings at the respective stage of the bill. I hope that we can find a better way forward.

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

April 8th, 2019 / 1:40 p.m.
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Glen Motz Conservative Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner, AB

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and yes, I would ask my hon. colleague to be patient. I will get to my point forthwith.

The priorities of Canadians are not the priorities of this Liberal Prime Minister and his government, and this could not be more clear than when two former cabinet ministers were removed from their party. They were banished last week, and there was a breakdown in trust. Sadly, the fault lies clearly with the Prime Minister and his cronies, while the penalties continue to be placed on the members who were removed.

The Prime Minister has offered one falsehood after another trying to it explain away. Quite bluntly, it has been painfully obvious to the rest of the country that he put politics ahead of the best interests of Canadians.

The Liberals have tabled their bill for taxpayer-funded records suspensions. There it is; I am back on the issue. How does this align with the needs of Canadians? In general, how does it fit with public safety? The many issues facing our country in protecting our communities and ensuring a strong, fair justice system go well beyond the Prime Minister trying to interfere with the independence of the former attorney general or the director of public prosecutions.

We know where Canada is struggling with public safety. According to Statistics Canada information, Canada has a gang problem in our cities. We have a justice problem, with backlogged courts and court appointments for judges. We have a rural crime problem. We have a sentencing and recidivism problem, with revolving doors in the justice and jail system. We have evidence-lab challenges and RCMP police-resourcing challenges. Stats Canada has shown that gang-related shootings are primarily responsible for recent increases in violent crime in this country, and to date, the only Liberal response has been unfulfilled promises.

Instead of action, the Liberals' legislative changes, like Bill C-71, for example, went after licensed firearms owners instead of criminals. As the Department of Public Safety noted in its own consultation document, the vast majority of licensed firearms owners are not involved in crime. In fact, statistics provided to the public safety committee suggest that it is under 1%. The Liberals' legislative response to gang violence and illegal weapons has been to crack down on less than 1% of the problem and to ignore the 99%.

What would help? I know a number of items that could help improve public safety and reduce violent crime. First is spending the money the government promised for policing and to go after organized crime. Second is to put more resources into public prosecutions, courts and evidence labs. These have all been shown to be under-resourced, especially with the recent court decision to limit trial length. Third is to stop softening sentences for violent criminals, as proposed in Bill C-75. Serious crime needs serious punishment for reform to work, and all these ideas have evidence to show that they are needed and would have an impact.

What will not have an impact is a taxpayer-funded pot pardon. No one would be safer because of this policy. A very small number of Canadians would benefit from it. The truth, from my experience, is that most individuals likely to seek record suspensions may have a number of other convictions as well. While they may receive a single free record suspension, their other charges may not be so free. Possession might be only one of the many charges on a person's record.

Where would Bill C-93 leave this House and Canada on the constant effort to combat crime in an ever-changing and evolving world? After three and a half years of Liberal mismanagement, we have a strained legal system that sees more and more criminals going free, rather than facing charges, or pleading to significantly less-serious charges.

Prisoners will now have access to needles whenever and wherever they want in prisons. As our correctional officers have told us and have pointed out more than once, even in Europe, which the Liberals claim to be copying, the needles are never in the general population; they are in the hands of medical staff. Rather than dealing with the cause of crime, most often addiction, the Liberal plan is to continue the addiction.

Under the current Liberal government, we have seen a horrific record of protecting communities from returning ISIS fighters. When we asked the committee how many outstanding monitoring warrants were placed on the 60 ISIS terrorists who have returned, the number was zero.

While I have no doubt that teams at CSIS and the RCMP are working to keep tabs on these individuals, and are doing a great job, limited by the legislation from the government, the red tape and oversight rules proposed under Bill C-59 would no doubt make it harder to watch known radical extremists who have participated in horrific, hate-based crimes. To me and many Canadians, a desire to join ISIS is itself an admission that someone supports violence.

The Prime Minister is happy to talk about being opposed to radicals and extremists, but none of his actions suggest that he is serious about combatting the sources of radicalization or the threat of domestic terrorism. Words matter, but actions have impacts.

We have seen a radical and damaging string of policies that have increased drugs in our communities and have not helped make anyone safer. Whether it was the poorly thought-out and rushed legislation on marijuana, which ignored reasonable requests from police and medical professionals, or the unnecessary risk of drug-impaired driving, to my knowledge, we still do not have a reliable roadside mechanism to test for drug impairment or to increase supervised injection sites.

Nothing so explains the potential harm of the Liberal approach to crime as the issue of rural crime, which we are dealing with in rural Canada. My riding has a small city and an expansive rural region. Across Alberta, Saskatchewan and other parts of our country, we have heard from Canadians about the rampant, escalating crime in rural communities committed, for the most part, by urban criminals victimizing rural Canadians where police response is minimal, delayed, or in some cases, nonexistent.

Canadians have told us heartbreaking stories of violent encounters, financial hardship and trauma from repeated thefts and victimization. Canadians have spoken of fear, alienation and abandonment. That is not Canada. That is not my Canada, but it has become an unfortunate reality in the Prime Minister's Canada.

With Bill C-93, the government is proposing a no-fee, no-waiting-period record suspension without any enquiries or reviews of personal history or conduct. The reason we have a Parole Board, both the administration and the regional organization, appointed to conduct hearings is to exercise discretion in the review of individual cases. Parole hearings can uncover vital information about convictions, such as a plea deal with lesser charges despite the person having been involved in serious and violent crimes.

While there are likely to be a very limited number of cases like this, such cases may be separated from simple possession issues. Moreover, some plea deals may have been arranged with lesser charges but with specific instructions, such as an agreement to have no record suspension, as appropriate to the person's personal history.

This means that these pardons would be granted as a matter of process, and the board would take up no inquiry of the person and would have little or no opportunity to exercise discretion. This means that even in cases where it was patently obvious that the person continued a criminal lifestyle but did not have a conviction entered against him or her, a pardon would be granted.

The police in this country have raised some concerns about Bill C-93. They suggest that our officers need to feel confident that individuals who are a threat to public safety and the public order are going to be popping up on CPIC, even if they have been convicted of simple possession.

Here is a scenario as an example. There are many individuals who have been charged with more than one serious criminal drug offence, but once they have gone to court and worked out a plea deal for simple possession for a multitude of possession charges, these charges are then reduced for multiple reasons, such as to ease a court backlog, to save witnesses from testifying or to secure testimony for the conviction of a bigger criminal player, etc. The plea to a simple possession charge would be used by the Crown with the understanding, as I said previously, that the conviction would still be a permanent part of that individual's record, ensuring that any future investigation of a similar nature could be appropriately linked and applied to that person's own personal history.

This does not serve the best interests of officer safety or community safety. It does not promote the rehabilitation of those entrenched in the criminal element, the ones who threaten to be repeat offenders.

I appreciate the fact that we cannot hold unproven facts against individuals. That would be unfair. However, we cannot ignore the circumstances that would lead to the arrest, charging and conviction of individuals using the available laws and the discretion of the day, which is key. The Crown and the courts would not have accepted the lesser pleas knowing the proposal today. This itself would affect the administration of justice.

There are two very different scenarios at play here: one person who is stopped and charged for carrying a dime bag of marijuana versus a person who is caught up in a drug ring and pleads to a simple possession charge. They are two very different people, but the proposed changes would treat them the same way. One is not a danger to police or the community, and the other continues to pose a risk. That is what should be screened. There should not just be blanket pardons.

While the Liberals are happy to talk about there being discretion in our justice system, they have removed the discretion of the public service at the Parole Board as well as the discretion of the Parole Board itself. It is important to keep in context the arrest charges and plea deals, especially since many plea deals would never have considered the possibility of a future government legalizing drugs and imposing record suspensions without any review or context.

The House should consider that no individuals would benefit from this act who would be excluded otherwise, and I can see no way to make that happen without an appropriate review.

I hope that members of the committee are not prevented from making minor and common-sense amendments to the legislation that would ensure public safety. Already we have seen too many pieces of legislation from the Liberals that ignore common sense and public safety in favour of policy and division.

To be clear, I know, and I believe members know, that these are not the public safety priorities of Canadians. This bill would not help victims recover from the trauma of violent crime. It would not prevent criminals from victimizing rural Canadians. It would not stop gang violence or deter youth from joining gangs. It would not address illegal firearms in our country. It would not address the many concerns and challenges faced by prosecutors and police across the country.

I see Bill C-93 as a continuation of the Liberals' plan: more minor gestures without the requisite actions to combat addiction, crime and poverty to improve public safety. It is a plan that would provide a benefit to a select and small group of Canadians at taxpayers' expense, a plan that would double down on legalizing marijuana while ignoring real, serious and important threats to Canada's public safety. These are not the priorities of Canadians. This bill does not address the issues, and from what I have heard from police and prosecutors across the country, it does not address their concerns.

I can only assume that Liberal MPs will once again be called on to vote in blind faith with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Public Safety, because today more and more Canadians are seeing clearly that the priorities of the Liberals are not the priorities of Canadians.

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

April 8th, 2019 / 1:35 p.m.
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Glen Motz Conservative Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner, AB

Mr. Speaker, it gives me pleasure to rise today to speak to the Liberals' latest pot plan, Bill C-93, an act to give pardons to people who were charged with possession of an illegal substance in years past.

I would like to salute the NDP members for their ability to bring pressure to bear on the Liberals and force them to address this issue. The government did not respond until after the NDP brought this forward in the House, calling for action. They need to be recognized for forcing the government into acting.

The Liberal government of course has said that it has always had a plan. However, it sure seems to have been rushed for something that was a long time in the planning.

In the public safety committee, we have the Liberal government's plans that are poorly developed, they lack consultations and they often miss the point or have negative consequences and unintended impacts on the Canadian public. The Liberal government has proven that virtue signalling is a bad way to manage a country because it creates more problems than it solves.

Bill C-93 makes its first mistake on the very first line of the bill, “An Act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions.” While I am sure the Liberals meant no-fee record suspension, there is no such thing as a no-cost record suspension. The process of suspending a criminal record costs the taxpayers money, $630 specifically. It is a cost recovery process in that an individual pays for the administrative costs for an application. Taxpayers will be on the hook for each pardon request, each suspension request. While providing the record suspension for an individual with historical convictions for a minor offence is not a big issue, allocating taxpayer money to the cost of that at a time when millions of Canadians are saying that everyday costs are out of reach, just shows how out of touch the government is to the everyday working Canadian.

This can hardly be called a priority for Canadians and the average Canadian family. That is the main issue I hear from many in the justice and policing community. The priorities of the government seem to be out of step with the needs of Canadians, the needs of our country and the needs of community safety, whether it is in the cities fighting gangs or in rural areas, providing police response to support and fight the rising crime rates. As I have said many times in this place, it must be the top priority of the House of Commons to put protections of Canadians ahead of political priorities, parties and election. Protecting Canadians is far more important than one's political fortunes.

Clearly, this is not the case for the Liberal Prime Minister, his senior cabinet ministers and staffers. While we can draw this conclusion from their priorities in the public safety portfolio, the SNC-Lavalin scandal brought this in clear view.

The Prime Minister, the Clerk of the Privy Council, the Minister of Finance and senior staff, including Gerald Butts and Ben Chin, noted that elections were more of a priority than the independence of our judicial process. Intervening in a criminal prosecution, quite possibly attempting to obstruct justice, and undermining the independence of our justice system was not as important to them as helping out their friends from a Montreal-based employer. “I'm an MP in Quebec” the Prime Minister is said to have responded. Sadly, the few jobs that might have been impacted, and SNC-Lavalin says almost no jobs would be impacted, pales in comparison to the tens of thousands of jobs lost in my province of Alberta in the energy sector.

The Prime Minister is fond of suggesting his words are important, but sadly his actions are found wanting. The priorities of Canadians are not the priorities—

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

April 8th, 2019 / 1:30 p.m.
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Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I really would like to have this go to committee. I hope there would be a will on the part of the government to do the right thing and amend it.

Normally, I would agree with the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands. However, the problem I have found is that after months of effort, the government seems to have a closed mind to expungement. Therefore, I do not see that there will be any uptake on this. As a consequence, I am loath to simply say that. Maybe there is a procedural way with the private member's bill, if it gets to committee, and this Bill C-93 at committee, to be somehow amalgamated. Perhaps there could be a positive change out of that.

However, I cannot support a bill that does not do the job and will continue to affect the lives of so many people.

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

April 8th, 2019 / 1:25 p.m.
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Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, first, it may be that certain changes will be needed to make automatic expungement efforts happen. In the United States, it was not an obstacle in states like Delaware, where the same issues arose.

Second, if as few as 10,000 people would be affected by Bill C-93, which is according to the number we have just heard, then I do not understand why the government could not find summer students to go through those files and determine who could be relieved of that burden. I do not understand why it is such an obstacle to get a few summer students to do the work.

It is easy to overstate the administrative burden of automatic expungement, but it is also not easy to stand by and watch so many people's lives being wrecked by the government's failure to act.

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

April 8th, 2019 / 1:05 p.m.
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Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to explain at the outset that the NDP will oppose this legislation. Over the next 20 minutes that I have available, I hope to explain why record suspension is not the way to go, and record expungement, which I will describe, is the way to go. Record expungement for simple possession is the basis of my private member's bill, Bill C-415, which will be up for second reading debate in the chamber on Thursday.

I have risen on previous occasions in this place to call Bill C-93 a half-baked measure, and I am still of that opinion. Let me explain: It is too little and it is too late.

It is too little, because record suspension is just that, putting a criminal record aside where it could potentially be used again against the individual. It ignores the historical injustice, the disproportionate impact of cannabis possession offences on marginalized Canadians, on blacks and particularly on indigenous people.

It is too late, because it is almost six months since October when we had the historic legalization of possession of cannabis. Here we are, almost at the end of this parliamentary session, starting second reading debate on the bill. It has to go before committee. It has to go to the Senate. It has to go before Senate committees. I am anxious that this will not be law in Canada, as it will die on the Order Paper until the next Parliament addresses that.

It is especially disappointing because the Liberals have had years to do this. Their excuse was to wait until possession was legal on October 17, 2018. Now we are almost six months later, in the dying days of this Parliament, and suddenly talking about it.

I hope that cynicism is not warranted. I hope there is goodwill on the part of the government to fix the bill and move it forward expeditiously. However, I have my doubts.

My private member's bill, which is the counter to this piece of legislation, would require an application process for expungement. In an ideal world, my bill would have had automatic expungement, which is the case in Delaware and California, where officials sweep the records, find out whether a person has a record, for simple possession in effect, and if so, the record is deemed never to have existed. It is gone. It is zapped from the system.

This legislation would require an application. My bill does too, but that is because, as the House well knows, it is a private member's bill, and due to a technicality called the royal recommendation, I could not ask the government to expend money. I was not able to do what has been done south of the border with automatic expungement. That would apply universally and automatically and benefit, disproportionately, indigenous and racialized Canadians.

Let us just stand back from this. We have an activity which is perfectly legal now, but for which hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps that high, have a record for past consumption of cannabis, possession of cannabis, when it was illegal, and now they cannot get on with their lives.

Why does that matter? It matters because blacks cannot rent apartments because they have a criminal record and are on the bottom of the list in a tight housing market. As I will explain later, there are way more people in Halifax who were charged with a cannabis offence and have a record for cannabis than the non-black population.

Believe it or not, it is most glaring in Regina, Saskatchewan. This is government data; this is not me. This is from records disclosed under access to information. An indigenous person in Regina is nine times more likely to have a record for cannabis possession than a non-indigenous person. A black individual is five times more likely in Halifax and three times more likely in Toronto to have the same. An indigenous person in Vancouver is seven times more likely to have a cannabis record. This matters. We would call this law, adverse effects discrimination. We would call this constructive discrimination.

That is why it is so galling that the government wants to bring in a half-baked measure in Bill C-93, rather than doing what is done in California. In San Francisco, there is an automatic intelligence system that simply sweeps the records to make them disappear for those who have a possession of cannabis offence on their record.

Let us contrast this with what the government wants to do today. To its credit, it wants to bring in a bill that says people no longer have to pay $631 for having a criminal record suspended, which is what Mr. Harper introduced, and they no longer have to wait for five years. I congratulate the government for that minor step in the right direction.

In the U.S., a person's record is automatically expunged in the states I have mentioned. These records are deemed not to exist. This matters because it allows people who are asked by a landlord whether they have a criminal record for anything to tell that landlord they do not. When asked by an employer if they have a criminal record, people who have only a cannabis possession charge from several years ago in their background can say they do not, because under expungement, it is deemed not to exist.

The government tells us not to worry and that we do not understand, because there is a human rights statute federally and in all the provinces that says people cannot face discrimination on the grounds that they have a criminal record for which a pardon has been granted. Tell that to an inner city landlord in downtown Halifax or to an inner city employer or small business operator in downtown Vancouver.

It is ludicrous. Why would the government not do the right thing, getting this all done at the same time and done properly, rather than bringing in this half-baked measure? It is too little, too late, which I am sad to say is my theme.

I am not the only one with this opinion. I am pleased to say that the Liberal member of Parliament for Beaches—East York acknowledges the limitations of the bill. He said:

Only full amnesty recognizes the disproportionate impact of cannabis prohibition on people of colour and the fact that cannabis should never have been criminalized in the first place.

Our government’s solution is better than nothing, but it’s not enough to be better than nothing when we have an opportunity to make historic injustices right.

I am quoting a Liberal member, not someone who has an axe to grind, if you will, on this issue. This is a Liberal who realizes we can do so much better.

One of the arguments the Liberals have used to explain why we cannot have expungement is that many people would be affected and it would cost so much money and take so much time. However, that is not true anymore, because we have new data suggesting that only some 10,000 people would be positively affected by the bill. That is not a very large number. Why can we not expunge their records rather than simply giving them this record suspension, after which records move from one filing cabinet to another and can come back and bite people later in a subsequent event if the state deems that they have committed another crime?

What about a crimes such as failure to appear? These are called administration of justice offences. They are not like the actual offence of cannabis possession. They occur when people do not pay a fine or do not show up in court. In these situations the criminal justice system is continually on a person's back, even though the root of it all was a cannabis possession charge.

I have been advised that indigenous women are sometimes affected down the road in this way when they have custody issues with their children. This occurs not because of the cannabis offence but because of the other matters on their record that have resulted from that. It is ludicrous.

The government says our most important relationship is with indigenous people. Here it could make a tiny but critically important change in the lives of so many. Why would it let this opportunity pass to expunge the records of people so they could say they have no criminal record, allowing them to get their foot on the social ladder in order to get employment, housing and the like? I do not understand the government's reluctance in this context.

Professor Kent Roach is one of Canada's leading criminal law specialists. Recently, in the Criminal Law Quarterly, he wrote, “The government's approach to cannabis convictions in the wake of legalization is even more problematic than the expungement act,” which is another bill I will come to.

He continued, “It has announced plans to allow the National Parole Board to grant pardons under the Criminal Records Act. This again requires case-by-case applications. This places challenges on the most disadvantaged people who have been convicted of cannabis possession.”

He goes on, “By not relying on expungement, the government's approach leaves applicants vulnerable to records of convictions and arrest being retained by the RCMP and other federal departments and to questions from prospective employers and landlords about whether they ever had a criminal conviction. It falls behind states such as California and Delaware in terms of reform.”

He then goes on and says about my bill that it “...takes a better approach by proposing to expunge cannabis convictions including the destruction of records of convictions.”

I am not here to score political points. I am not even running again in the next election. I am fully convinced that automatic expungement is the way to go. It is what people deserve. I implore the government to amend this bill and do the right thing by so many people who are affected, whose lives are on hold until we get this right.

Record suspension simply removes criminal records from the main database, CPIC, the Canadian Police Information Centre, and puts the data somewhere else, where it can be used prejudicially later and potentially shared with other departments, thereby having a negative effect.

Expungement means those records disappear for all purposes and for all time. A record suspension or pardon indicates the government is forgiving or excusing individuals for criminal behaviour, and that is all; expungement acknowledges it was wrong to criminalize it in the first place.

At this time, let me give the House the other government excuse for not doing the right thing.

It brought in, to its credit, Bill C-66, which was called the Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act. That bill dealt with same-sex sexual activity, which is no longer criminalized but was in the past. The government said it was going to deem those offences to no longer be on a person's record—gone.

I have two things to say about that.

Number one is that since October, from the last statistics, do members know how many people have even bothered to apply, of the 9,000 eligible? It was seven. That hardly gives confidence that this application process is going to make a difference.

Number two is that the government says, “Oh, member for Victoria, do you know what we will do? We will say that this is to be reserved for things that are constitutionally over the line, such as same-sex sexual activity.”

There is no principled reason for that smokescreen. I have talked to criminal law specialists and constitutional specialists across the country who say that this argument is not valid. Second, even if it were valid, which it is not, what about the constructive discrimination I just talked about, the adverse effects discrimination, whereby the policy and application affect blacks and indigenous people dramatically more than others? What about that?

Not doing the right thing for cannabis expungement as for same-sex sexual activity, which the government is prepared to expunge, makes no sense at all. It is another Liberal smokescreen.

I am not here to score political points; I am just trying to persuade the Liberals to do the right thing. Why would they not do it? That is what is so complicated for me to understand.

The NDP has been calling for this measure for years. I will not go through the whole background of it, but there are deficiencies in addition in the bill that is before us today. The Parole Board does not have the resources to do the job, so there are going to be even further backlogs for other applications from people seeking pardons. There is a whole industry, sadly, out there to help people get rid of their criminal records. If members go on the Internet, they will see everybody who wants to help if they give them a few hundred bucks.

The forms are complicated. Members might not think they are, but for a poor person with little education who is living in the inner city, this measure would impose another burden, and I do not understand why, when our friends south of the border figured it out much more readily.

There are also eligibility gaps in Bill C-93. Only those people convicted of simple possession are eligible, meaning anyone with prior record suspensions of crimes related to the simple possession charges will not be able to use this process. I gave the example of failure to appear or not paying the fine or the like. If there is another offence on the record, then they are facing an inability to apply.

Someone pointed out that if a person has a summary conviction offence and then four years down has another cannabis offence, there may be a total wait of nine years to apply under this bill. I do not believe that was intended, but it is a function of the drafting of the bill, according to experts I have consulted. That is problematic.

The Liberals have had six months since they brought in legalization to do this. This bill is maybe four and a half or five pages in English, so how on earth did it take that long? The elephant laboured and brought forth a mouse.

Bill C-75, which was 302 pages, was before the justice committee, and it rammed that one through. This bill is five pages in English and maybe nine pages in total with English and French. It took the Liberals that long to produce this tiny bill, this weak bill. Presumably they can just check it off on the list that another promise was kept, except if the bill dies on the Order Paper, as most people are anticipating.

This is a real problem. This is an opportunity for the government. My hope is that if the private member's bill that I have before Parliament for debate on Thursday goes to the public safety committee at the same time as this bill, perhaps there will be a way in which some of the provisions that I have suggested for expungement could be brought into the bill that is before us and we could get it right for the victims as they are.

It is not just me saying this. The Prime Minister has been quoted as follows: “...there is a disproportionate representation of young people, from minorities and racialized communities, who are saddled with criminal convictions for simple possession as a significant further challenge to success in the job market....” He seems to get it.

The statistics that the government has produced under access to information confirm what I am saying. I am not making up those shocking statistics about overrepresentation of blacks and, particularly, indigenous people. The Prime Minister gets the consequences, so why would the Liberals not do it right? I do not understand.

Professor Doob, the famous criminology professor at the University of Toronto, stated:

There is no justification for forcing those who were convicted to live with a criminal record for behaviour that will soon not be criminal. A procedure for dealing with the problem has been devised by the current government. They should ensure that relevant drug records are expunged for the thousands of Canadians who have them.

Senator Pate, who has been very powerful on this issue in the other place, has made similar arguments, and I hope that those points are taken into account by the Liberals opposite.

I have been working with a very talented lawyer in Toronto, Annamaria Enenajor, who is the director of Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty. She is a prominent lawyer in Toronto and clerked for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. She is volunteering for this important cause and she states:

...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.

That is the nub of the argument. Let us do it right.

There may be some good arguments in theory. I talked about the theoretical ability to apply the human rights legislation when people have been given pardons and so on, but it does not work in the real world. We have an absolute dearth of money for legal aid, and legal aid rarely covers human rights complaints if one has been discriminated against because of one's record. Theoretically, I guess, the Liberals could hang their hat on that, but they sure have not visited many inner cities if they think that is a viable argument in practice. Many small businesses and landlords draft their own applications and may not be aware of human rights legislation.

We have a historic opportunity in the dying days of this Parliament to do it right. Let us expunge criminal records for small quantity cannabis possession and help those thousands of Canadians who need a head start and a chance to get their foot on the rung in the social ladder. Let us do the right thing for those people as soon as we can.