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

This bill was last introduced in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2019.

Sponsor

Ralph Goodale  Liberal

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

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.

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.

Votes

June 3, 2019 Passed Concurrence at report stage of Bill C-93, An Act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis
June 3, 2019 Failed Bill C-93, An Act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis (report stage amendment)
June 3, 2019 Passed Bill C-93, An Act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis (report stage amendment)
May 6, 2019 Passed 2nd reading of Bill C-93, An Act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis
April 11, 2019 Passed Time allocation for Bill C-93, An Act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis

June 17th, 2019 / 4:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

Well, as I said, Monsieur Dubé, we have had an enormous volume of work to get through, as has this committee, as has Parliament, generally. The work program has advanced as rapidly as we could make it. It takes time and effort to put it all together. I'm glad we're at this stage, and I hope the parliamentary machinery will work well enough this week that we can get it across the finish line.

It has been a very significant agenda, when you consider there has been Bill C-7, Bill C-21, Bill C-22, Bill C-23, Bill C-37, Bill C-46, Bill C-66, Bill C-71, Bill C-59, Bill C-97, Bill C-83, Bill C-93 and Bill C-98. It's a big agenda and we have to get it all through the same relatively small parliamentary funnel.

June 17th, 2019 / 3:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

I think, Ms. Dabrusin, it's simply a product of the large flow of public safety business and activity that we have had to deal with. I added it up a couple of days ago. We have asked this Parliament to address at least 13 major pieces of legislation, which has kept this committee, as well as your counterparts in the Senate, particularly busy.

As you will know from my previous answers, I have wanted to get on with this legislation. It's part of the matrix that is absolutely required to complete the picture. It's here now. It's a pretty simple and straightforward piece of legislation. I don't think it involves any legal intricacies that make it too complex.

If we had had a slot on the public policy agenda earlier, we would have used it, but when I look at the list of what we've had to bring forward—13 major pieces of legislation—it is one that I hope is going to get to the finish line, but along the way, it was giving way to things like Bill C-66, Bill C-71, Bill C-83, Bill C-59 and Bill C-93. There's a lot to do.

Bill C-68—Time Allocation MotionFisheries ActGovernment Orders

June 13th, 2019 / 10:50 a.m.
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Liberal

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, in the Senate there are a number of bills that are so important, just like this exact bill here, Bill C-68. There are also Bill C-88, Bill C-91, Bill C-92, Bill C-93, Bill C-391, Bill C-374, Bill C-369 and Bill CC-262. All these bills are being delayed by the Senate because they are taking far too long.

I was wondering if the hon. minister could tell us why the Conservative senators are delaying all these bills, delaying us from doing the job that Canadians have sent us here to do. They gave us a mandate in 2015, after a decade of darkness with the Conservatives, to repair the damage they had done to the environment and to indigenous communities and to make sure we get this job done.

Can the hon. minister talk a little bit about that, please?

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2019 / 5:05 p.m.
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NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Madam Speaker, that is precisely the problem. Very few people will benefit from the system proposed under Bill C-93.

The Canadian Association of Black Lawyers said that it had a lot of clients who did not even know they had a criminal record. If a person does not know that they have a criminal record, how are they supposed to apply to have their record suspended?

There are so many inconsistencies and barriers. That is why I ran for the NDP in 2011 and that is why we are opposed to this bill. We did not come here to give a blank cheque to a self-proclaimed progressive government that proposes half-measures that do not go far enough. We want to truly improve people's lives.

If I thought that Bill C-93 was the best way to do that, the government would have my support. We could have done better. The hon. member for Victoria introduced a bill but the government voted it down.

The Liberals rejected a better solution so why should I give a blank cheque to a government that is not doing enough when I am here to represent people who need us?

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2019 / 5:05 p.m.
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Fundy Royal New Brunswick

Liberal

Alaina Lockhart LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Tourism

Madam Speaker, I know Liberals have differences of opinion with the NDP on how to proceed to clear people of their criminal records for possession. However, when the head of the campaign for Cannabis Amnesty, who shares a lot of the NDP's views, was asked in committee whether Bill C-93 was a positive step, she said it absolutely was.

We can talk about the differences of opinion in the House, but would the NDP see fit to help the people impacted by existing convictions to get jobs, housing and education, and support us by voting for this bill?

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2019 / 4:40 p.m.
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NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to once again speak to Bill C-93. This bill has a number of flaws and perfectly illustrates why Canadians' trust in the Liberals has been broken. On the eve of the election, the government is settling for half measures that are not even guaranteed to pass.

As the parliamentary secretary said, we oppose this bill. We are not here to give the Liberal government a free pass for measures that very few people will be able to access. For example, I will talk about Bill C-66, which established an expedited procedure for expunging criminal records of LGBTQ community members sentenced for behaviour that is no longer deemed criminal. This objective is commendable and we support it, but an automatic process would have been preferable.

We can look at the numbers for the sake of comparison. When Bill C-93 was in committee, we learned that of the approximately 9,000 people who were eligible for the procedure established under Bill C-66, only seven had applied. In committee, we asked government officials for an explanation, but naturally, they were unable to respond. I would certainly be able to provide some, just as the experts did in committee. I will come back to that.

Meanwhile, the government said that it would advertise through non-traditional means. Is it talking about tweets, Facebook posts or pretty hashtags? I have a hard time believing that these ads will be seen by the right people, who are often in precarious situations. We are talking about vulnerable Canadians, racialized people, indigenous peoples and low-income Canadians. Factually and statistically, these people are the most likely to have a criminal record for simple possession of marijuana.

This is easy to prove. Here in the House, the Prime Minister publicly stated that he had once smoked marijuana recreationally, as did other politicians. There is nothing wrong with that. Black people in Toronto, however, cannot get away with it that easily. They are the most likely to have a criminal record for simple possession of marijuana. This is a serious problem and is one of the reasons we oppose this bill. It is clear that the people who need this process the most are the same ones who will not benefit from it.

I would like to talk a little bit about the study in committee in order to explain why the NDP does not support this bill. First, a criminal lawyer told us that this was the least Parliament could do and that it was better than nothing but that parliamentarians have a duty to do much better than that. I could not agree more.

The NDP's commitment to Parliament involves doing our best to help those who need it most. We do not want to settle for taking a tiny step in the right direction. The lawyer I mentioned, Solomon Friedman, also raised several problems with the record suspension system. Those problems are not an issue in the NDP's approach of expunging criminal records. He mentioned two factors.

The first is good conduct. Those who apply for a criminal record suspension, whether under the process proposed by Bill C-93 or the usual process, must demonstrate that they are being good citizens. For the average Canadian, that means refraining from robbing a bank or murdering someone, for instance, as farfetched as that may sound.

Actually, Mr. Freidman explained that it could include getting a speeding ticket or causing a minor accident with another vehicle by turning onto a one-way street and the police is called in. These actions would be considered bad behaviour. Fortunately, the leader of the Green Party and member for Saanich—Gulf Islands introduced an amendment to fix the problem. We introduced a similar amendment that went even further. I will come back to that in a moment.

The government's amendment appears quite good, but if the government acknowledges this flaw and the distinction between record suspension and expungement, why did it not simply agree to expunge the records from the outset? That was what my colleague from Victoria's bill called for. Incidentally, some Liberal and Conservative members supported it.

There are other differences between the two approaches, but I want to come back to the amendment. The Liberals moved a sub-amendment to the proposed amendment, which then lost an important element that was found in one of my amendments, which was rejected. Simple possession of a reasonable quantity of cannabis, just like its consumption for recreational, medical or other purposes, is now permitted under the law following the passage of Bill C-45 earlier in this Parliament. An individual who obtains a record suspension for simple possession of cannabis could subsequently commit another crime for all sorts of reasons. I am not excusing the crime or stating whether it would be justified. This is a hypothetical situation.

Under Bill C-93, if an individual with a criminal record for simple possession of marijuana has his criminal record suspended and subsequently commits a crime, no matter how minor or insignificant it may be, the record is reinstated. That makes no sense. I do not understand that. If the member for Sherbrooke, the member for Saskatoon West, the member for Courtenay—Alberni, or even I, or anyone else, were in possession of cannabis, that would not be considered unlawful under the act.

An individual can get a record suspension through a government-approved process because the offence they committed is no longer an offence. That individual might go on to commit a crime, perhaps due to being marginalized, as the vast majority of people burdened with the injustice of a criminal record for simple possession of cannabis are. This bill is an attempt to repair that injustice. The individual might be struggling with very difficult circumstances. We do not know all those circumstances.

The government says it wants to help these people, but its new system is flawed. If these people trip up at any point in the future, their criminal record will be reinstated and they will no longer benefit from the Liberals' system.

If their records were expunged, as the NDP and all the committee witnesses except for the minister suggested, the records would no longer exist. No matter what future difficulties people might encounter, that record would be gone for good.

I also want to speak about other vulnerable individuals whom this bill does not help. I want to speak about the issues raised by the Native Women's Association of Canada, which came to committee and said that one of the groups that would benefit the least from this legislation is indigenous women, because of all the barriers that would still exist despite this process.

Earlier, I asked the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston about the fact that, by not making the process automatic and calling it “no-cost”, the government is misleading Canadians who may want to benefit from this process. Why is that? As every witness said in committee, there are sometimes enormous costs associated with obtaining the necessary documents to apply in the first place, especially for the individuals who seek to benefit from this process.

The application no longer has a cost, but people have to pay to get their fingerprints, pay to go to the court to find their old records, if they even still exist, which is something I will come back to in a moment, and they have to pay for any other documents they might need. The costs could be hundreds of dollars, and it varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

If people live far away from an urban centre, in a region that is already underserved and where vulnerable Canadians, indigenous people and others are already victims of a system that is fixed against them in many ways, they are even more disadvantaged by those barriers that would remain in place despite this legislation. That is unacceptable.

What could have been done? We proposed an amendment that was unfortunately ruled beyond the scope of the bill, which is interesting. I challenged the chair and the Liberals voted with the chair, which is not surprising, but the explanation that was provided by the law clerk in committee was interesting, when he argued why the amendments were beyond the scope of the bill. He said that all the bill seeks to do is take the existing record suspension process, which everyone agrees is fundamentally unequal, and make it a bit easier in some aspects.

However, by making it automatic, we would get rid of those barriers. It was pointed out to us by the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, the Native Women's Association and others that many of these individuals do not even think they have criminal records anymore because they paid their fines, which is considered time served, and have moved on to other things. They do not even know.

Anyone in this room who has dealt with government, and certainly we have, in our offices, by the very nature of our work, knows that if it is hard enough for those of us within government to deal with the government apparatus and to have the proper knowledge, then certainly it is true for the most vulnerable Canadians.

Even the idea of making the system automatic was a compromise. We initially wanted criminal records to be expunged, but we said we could live with record suspensions. We were not happy, but we wanted the government to at least make the process automatic. It refused. It will not even accept a compromise.

I said earlier that I would come back to the issue of documentation and poor records management in Canada. It is madness. Ask the police about the Canadian police database. Ask about a crime being committed in Ontario and having to search for records in Alberta, Quebec or elsewhere. It is crazy to see how poorly managed these records are. One of the things that needs to be done is a digital upgrade.

The Conservatives proposed an amendment that all committee members supported. If a person could no longer locate documents because they had been destroyed or lost, they could sign a sworn statement explaining the lack of documentation. The Parole Board of Canada would be able to accept this sworn statement, this letter or declaration, so that the person could move forward with the process.

Everyone was happy. It was a step in the right direction. When the bill came back to the House at report stage, the amendment was quashed. The government turned it into an option the board could choose to make available in very specific cases. The amendment might as well not have been adopted, because it will not help anyone.

That brings me to my next point, which is about the most shameful and frustrating part of the whole process. I have been an MP for eight years. I have great respect for the public service and for public servants who work very hard with very little in the way of resources, despite what the general public might think. What I saw during the committee's study of this bill was unbelievable.

When we asked the minister why this process could not be made automatic and why the records could not be expunged, he flat out said that it was too much work. I swear that is what he said, and I invite my colleagues to read his testimony. We heard the same thing from the representatives of the parole board and during clause-by-clause consideration. When I proposed amendments to make things easier for the people this bill is meant to help, the Liberals asked officials to provide a reason for rejecting my amendments. What did they say? They said that they did not have the capacity, that they did not know how they would do that and that it would be too much work.

The government says that better is always possible. It introduced a bill to help people in our society who are caught in a tough situation, but it refuses to accept a better approach, one supported by everyone who testified at committee. It seems it is too much work for the parole board. According to police, civil society and every expert in the legal community, the parole board has been mismanaging records for far too long. It is far from being the best system. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It is unacceptable.

It is even more shameful given that the committee conducted a study. When the minister was appointed, he came in with great fanfare, much like the rest of the government. He said that the government was going to address all of the injustices created by the previous government and all of the injustices in society. To hear him talk, this was going to be the best government in the history of the universe. According to him, there was no need to worry.

Four years later, what is happening? It costs about $650 for a person to have their criminal record suspended. I do not have the exact number in front of me. There are some disadvantages to giving a speech without any notes. People are being asked to pay about $650 to apply for a record suspension. That measure was put in place by the previous government. Some of the wording has been changed. Now, we talk about record suspensions instead of pardons. As the former Conservative government would have said, a criminal can never be pardoned. The minister said that there was a major injustice in the system and that he was going to fix it.

What happened then? Following in the footsteps of several other members, a Liberal member who, I have to believe, had good intentions, hopped on the bandwagon and ordered a committee study. Most people will have only one opportunity in their entire life to introduce a motion or bill in the House. The member called for a study of criminal record suspensions.

I think he could have asked the committee to conduct the study. It would have gladly done it, but let us put that aside. The member's intentions were good. The member for Saint John—Rothesay appeared before the committee and said that an automatic process should be considered for minor crimes, such as simple possession of cannabis.

We did the work and produced a report. The committee presented its report to the House. The government said it would look at it. Incidentally, Public Safety Canada had already commissioned an Ekos survey that found that three-quarters of Canadians supported simplifying the process for applying for a criminal record suspension, because it would allow individuals to reintegrate into society and get a job. Indeed, 95% of people who are granted a pardon or record suspension do not reoffend.

What did the government do? If I were sitting down, I would fall out of my chair. The government presented the same recommendation that had already been made, which would have been a footnote to our study of the bill, based on what the minister said.

It really fuels cynicism when a government says it will do one thing when it comes to power, but then does not do it. One of the government's own members orders a study. The government says it will do it, and then it does not. Then, a month before the House of Commons' last sitting before the election, the same Liberal members say in committee that we did not really have enough time to do the study and that perhaps it should have been done or will be done with the next government.

This is why we oppose Bill C-93. In the justice system and the public safety system, people were far too often penalized for the colour of their skin or the place they lived. We truly want to help these people. We do not want half measures that fuel cynicism.

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2019 / 4:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague to the south, who has been representing very ably the riding that was, until very recently and for a long time, represented by my dear friend and colleague Gord Brown. Those were big shoes to fill. I know I am expressing a view that is shared by many in his constituency when I say that my colleague is doing a very admirable job, and my hat is off to him for that.

This is my second opportunity to address Bill C-93 and my third to address the issue of pardons for the formerly criminal act of simple possession of cannabis. I was also able to address the private member's bill, Bill C-415, which was moved in the name of our colleague from Victoria.

I want to focus my remarks primarily on the contrast between the expungement model in Bill C-415 and the record suspension or pardon model in Bill C-93. Looking at this bill and the comments raised in committee persuades me of the truth of a remark that was made in committee by a criminal defence lawyer, Solomon Friedman, who said:

I should first note that Bill C-93 is better than nothing. But better than nothing is a mighty low bar for our Parliament. You can do better. You must do better. Instead, I would urge a scheme of expungement along the lines already provided for in the Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act.

That act was, of course, passed by this Parliament at the instigation of the current government, which revealed that expungement is, at least in principle, possible for the former offence of simple possession of cannabis.

Better than nothing turns out to be the equivalent, in practice, of very little at all. Parole Board officials testifying before the committee studying this bill estimated that out of the 250,000 to 500,000 Canadians with convictions for cannabis possession, only 10,000 would apply for a record suspension or expedited pardon.

I will make two comments. First, I am not sure how much precision or accuracy we can expect in the prediction of 10,000 from people who said that the number of records out there is somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000. That is a substantial margin of error. Additionally, if it is 10,000, why so few? The answer, in part, is the incredibly bureaucratic nature of the process under Bill C-93. When looking at Bill C-93, one gets the impression that the government looked at all available options for dealing with this issue and selected the most bureaucratic one it could find.

Let me quote from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, a supporter of this bill, and my point will be made. In promotion of the bill, she said:

[W]hy not just do it like some California municipalities and erase all the records with the press of a button? We do have an electronic police database of criminal records here in Canada, however, that database does not contain enough information to allow for a proactive amnesty....

[The] Parole Board should explore options for moving towards a more digitized system capable of receiving applications electronically, something particularly important for Canadians in rural areas.

That system would be in the future, not under this bill. That is a reference to the problems of getting access to broadband Internet in rural areas.

The parliamentary secretary then said:

In the meantime, the Parole Board is taking a number of steps to simplify the application process in other ways. It is simplifying its website and application form. It is creating a dedicated, toll-free phone number and an email address to help people with their applications.

In other words, none of this stuff is available, and it will take some time before that happens. She continued:

It is developing a community outreach strategy with a particular focus on the communities most [likely to be] affected by the criminalization of cannabis to make sure that people know about this new expedited process and how to access it...

We will need an advertising campaign.

This is going to be slow and complicated. By contrast, what would have happened under an expungement system? Expungement is nothing the government ever considered. Indeed, it seems not to have even thought of this possibility. Under expungement, we would simply say that the government would act as if any record that stated that a person had been convicted for possession of cannabis did not actually exist. If we found it, we simply would say there was nothing there.

This is done by the courts all the time. Any correspondence between lawyers done on a without prejudice basis, whether or not the words “without prejudice” are put at the front of the various pieces of correspondence, is automatically disregarded by a court. They have no ability to present it as evidence in a proceeding.

Similarly, we could do the same thing with records. This would overcome the problem of having different records kept in different ways, some on paper and some electronically, in different jurisdictions. They would simply have no existence in law. Because it is such a common conviction, when one was accessed, we would understand that it simply did not exist for the purpose of being used by any law enforcement official. That is how we could introduce expungement. This would eliminate all the bureaucracy, all the application fees that are necessary, which would still exist under this proposal, all the time, all the work and all the money that would have to be expended. There is a cost estimate, which I find hard to believe, attached to this bill. There would be zero cost with an expungement system.

In all fairness, the bill is better now than it was before it went to committee and came back with amendments. This is thanks, in part, to an amendment proposed by the member for Toronto—Danforth.

I will again read from the parliamentary secretary's words to give members an idea of what was done. She stated:

thanks to an amendment at committee from the member for Toronto—Danforth, people will be able to apply [for a pardon] even if they have outstanding fines associated with their cannabis possession conviction.

Due to an amendment we voted on at report stage...people whose only sentence was a fine will not be required to submit court documents as part of their application.

Finding these court documents was part of the supposedly costless, expedited process until this amendment was made.

On the other hand, a further suggested amendment, put forward by the Conservatives, was accepted at committee and then subsequently rejected by the government.

I will quote from our Conservative critic on this issue, who stated, “We proposed a measure to allow applicants whose records were destroyed to swear an affidavit explaining their situation and certifying that they are eligible”, which of course creates some paperwork but is less complicated than what we are left with. He went on to say, “This would have made the process even more fair. The Liberals agreed to this amendment in committee but changed their minds at report stage and decided to reject it.”

That would have helped relieve some of the bureaucracy. There are certain costs that continue to exist, and this prompted one person to quip, I think very appropriately, that the bill should not have been entitled an act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis, but rather, an act to provide for lower-cost, somewhat expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis.

In the remaining minute and a half of my time, I want to deal with another important issue. Getting a pardon essentially equals getting forgiveness. People have done something wrong, we forgive them, and we move on. Expungement is a way of saying that what they did was not wrong in the first place. There are some offences for which this might not be true, even if we eliminated them retrospectively. I think, in the case of cannabis possession, it is clear that our ancestors, those who came before us, did not make it legal because they felt it was morally wrong to ingest or use marijuana. They thought it was the best way to protect people from their own unwise instincts. It was a wrong move. It did not work. It ruined a lot of lives, but those people were not put in prison because they had done something that was evil or wrong or would harm the rest of society. Therefore, removing this is entirely appropriate. We need not save expungement, as the government has proposed, only for the righting of historical wrongs based on laws that are now prohibited under the charter. I suggest that, in this case, it is also appropriate, and I urge all of us to consider, as we look forward to the future, the expungement model, perhaps in a second piece of legislation in the 43rd Parliament.

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2019 / 4:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Michael Barrett Conservative Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, ON

Madam Speaker, I have had the pleasure of visiting the riding of Kootenay—Columbia and it is, indeed, quite wonderful, although I did not visit any cannabis-growing farms.

Bill C-93, in its current form, is flawed. The amendments proposed at committee by industry in response to recommendations by industry experts would have served this piece of legislation well. With a view to fairly implementing the new legislation in what should have been lockstep with the legalization of marijuana, the Conservatives are going to support this piece of legislation, but, as I said before, like so many other pieces of legislation that the Liberals implemented, we will fix it and clean up the mess.

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2019 / 4:20 p.m.
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NDP

Wayne Stetski NDP Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Madam Speaker, my riding of Kootenay—Columbia has long been a place known for generations of cannabis farmers. It has been quite interesting to work through the process over the last couple of years trying to make sure that cannabis grown under sunshine and rain is as acceptable as cannabis grown under plastic and glass, and I do not think we are quite there yet.

I have consulted with constituents in my riding about this particular bill and I am personally supportive of Bill C-93. Why not go all the way to expungement now that we have started that process?

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2019 / 4:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Michael Barrett Conservative Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, ON

Madam Speaker, I share the shock and surprise of my colleague. It is unbelievable.

The rush to get things done comes out of the government now realizing that it has run out of runway and it wants to have a few things on the achievement list after a pretty rough spring for Canada.

The institution that we believe in, the independence of our judiciary, has been questioned. It has been weakened by the Liberal government's actions. We need to look no further than the SNC-Lavalin scandal. We need to look no further than the politically motivated prosecution and persecution of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman.

Now that the Liberals are looking to get a few accomplishments in their brochures for the election, this bill is one that they want to get done.

The Liberals have broken promises that they made in the last election. The democratic reform that they promised has not materialized. Certainly, it is quite the opposite. It is very concerning that the Liberals have Elections Canada now paying the better part of three-quarters of a million dollars to Instagram models and the like to influence the outcome of the election. It is preposterous. I cannot even believe that is part of the government's strategy. It clearly is not the work of a serious mind.

So much of what the Liberals have failed to do risks the future for Canadians. Failing to balance the budget, as the Liberals promised, is a huge problem. Having been given a balanced budget in 2015, they plunged us into deficit after deficit after deficit. Here we are in year four with another deficit. These deficits today will be the taxes of tomorrow. It is very concerning for Canadians.

We had a promise from the government that it was going to take real action on the environment. Hundreds of thousands of litres of raw sewage are being dumped into the St. Lawrence without consequence. It is not a concern for the Liberals.

In the absence of a plan to help the environment, the Liberals put a tax on everything. They put a tax on driving one's kids to hockey and a tax to run a small business, those same small businesses that the Liberal government alleged to be tax cheats.

Conservatives know that small businesses are the backbone of our economy. They are the real economic driver. We have often heard the government say that it created one million jobs. It is not the government's responsibility to create jobs. It needs to create an environment where jobs can be created. Canadians create jobs.

The Liberals will not accept responsibility for failures but they are quick to take credit for other people's successes. Certainly they are quick to take credit on the backs of ordinary Canadians and small business owners, just as they are quick to bring in taxes to pay for their reckless spending.

It is a hurried process that we have arrived at with Bill C-93, but it matches very much the chaotic nature of the government.

We will monitor the implementation of this bill. We commit to reviewing its effectiveness and fairness. When we form government, we will see if any changes need to be made to ensure the reasonableness and fairness of it are applied.

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2019 / 4:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Michael Barrett Conservative Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, ON

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my neighbour to the north, the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston.

I rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-93. When I spoke to the bill previously, I expressed my concern that it has been rushed to meet the Prime Minister's self-imposed political timeline. We are going to miss real opportunities to get this right, and there was a lot of runway for the government to get this done.

Municipalities are going to struggle with this. There will be real costs for them. We have heard from law enforcement professionals about the challenges that the hurried legislation will present for them. Health care professionals have also expressed concerns about the timetable that came with legalization. It is fair to describe it as half-baked indeed.

The issues that come from a lack of due diligence are so much more than the downloading of responsibilities to municipalities. It furthers the inequalities people will face.

There is also a risk, as my colleague said, that we will not be able to have full visibility on the criminal records of the folks who will receive these expedited pardons. Perhaps the amendments that were proposed ought to have been given better and proper consideration by the government in an effort to further the interests of justice in Canada.

The last time I spoke to the bill, I described issues in a very clear way for the government to give it the opportunity to understand and consider the error of its ways. I did this using the story of “The Tortoise and the Hare”. I will not retell it, as I am sure government members were captivated by my first telling of it. However, the fact remains that through the government's failure to deliver, we find ourselves here.

When the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety spoke on this issue, she conceded that due diligence had not been done. She said:

However, not all of the fines are owed to the federal government. All the federal government can do is wipe its fines, but it has to discuss this with provinces and municipalities and encourage them to do the same. That kind of discussion is ongoing, but it will take a while to come to an understanding of how provinces and municipalities can actually contribute to this process.

Further on she said:

Mr. Speaker, I believe how it would work, at a provincial or municipal level, is that payment of those fines, if they are not granted amnesty on those fines, would be through civil recourse.

It is pretty late in the game, as we are at quite an advanced stage, for those discussions to be ongoing or, more correctly, not happening.

Concerns that have been expressed by stakeholders persist. We have heard what the risks are for municipalities. However, our law enforcement and public safety professionals continue to have inadequate tools for roadside testing and screening for impairment. That presents a grave challenge. Despite all of the time and education that has been invested in preventing and stopping alcohol-impaired driving, we continue to have issues. Authorities could run a ride check any time of day and they would find people who are impaired.

It concerns me that while our law enforcement agents are out trying to do their jobs with this newly legalized substance, they do not have the tools and the tool kit to get the job done. The tool they have is error-plagued. Members may recall that the device police have been given is the same device on which folks test positive for opiate use after eating a poppyseed bagel.

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2019 / 3:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Madam Speaker, I could just stand here and listen to the member for a few more minutes. There is so much to learn, because this debate does have so many different sides to it. We have people who have spent 35 years in the policing community, who have a voice in here. People who have had a criminal charge against them have a voice in here. There are so many different things that we need to look at, so I do respect the words that the member said. That is what makes a healthy debate in the House of Commons.

I am proud to stand here and speak to Bill C-93, an act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis. Although I am not 100% behind the bill, I do feel that it does what is best for Canadians.

To begin, I am concerned about the cost to taxpayers. There are different ways of looking at this. In the previous Conservative government, the process was a user-pay system. This system was put in, and for many years in my experience as a constituency assistant, I would sit with people who had a criminal record and needed to get a record suspension.

We would go through the list of what they needed to do, everything from going to the police station and to the courthouse and all of those different things that were necessary. In many cases, people were trying to get their criminal record suspended because they were looking for better opportunities, for better jobs, for things that would increase their livelihood. I fully respected that.

For many people, although there are different ways of looking at this, what I found was that sometimes the user-pay system was very difficult. For those people who wanted to have a better life, I found it extremely difficult when I knew that they did not have the means, and all they wanted was to have a job. Sometimes this is a real difficulty.

What is at the end of the day for taxpayers? The border security minister indicated that there could be up to 400,000 Canadians who have a criminal record for simple possession, but the government expects between 70,000 and 80,000 are eligible to apply. According to public safety, the cost would be approximately $2.5 million, equalling approximately 10,000 applicants.

There are ways of doing this. I believe that when someone breaks the law, there needs to be some sort of penalty, but sometimes the penalties can live on forever if people do not have the opportunity to have their record suspended, because it is not going away. If people do not have the means to pay for that record suspension, they are going to continue to have that record.

That is why I wish I could see that the government looked at a possible means test. The Liberals talk about means tests all the time, and about not helping the millionaires or the people who do not need it, so I do not know why they did not consider having means tests. Those people who cannot afford it could pay what they can—pay a small portion or pay for the court documents or the records or whatever it is they need. It could be very difficult, but instead we will have people who are making zero dollars and people who are making $500,000 all paying the same to make it universal.

We know that this is an expensive program, so if we are looking it as a poverty reduction measure, let us make sure we are actually helping those in poverty by reducing the cost to them so that those people can have a better life.

One of the discussions we had was whether it was necessary, the idea being that people would say getting a job was not a big deal and having a criminal record was okay. I lived during an economic downturn, and people who had lost their job at Ford in St. Thomas or lost their job at Sterling or a variety of other places were now looking to get a foot in another door. One of the things stopping them was their criminal record.

Many people would say it is against human rights. If there is no reason to worry about that criminal record and it has nothing to do with their job, it should not matter to the employer whether they have a criminal record or not, but let us be honest: When a company is receiving 200 applications and notices there is a criminal record, it is very easy to put it into the “later” pile, because those are issues it does not want to deal with. Companies do not know that it may be a simple possession of marijuana, but it is a simple way of separating the good from the bad, even though the best employee may be lost in that later pile. Those are some of the things we have to understand.

One of the key elements to this issue is poverty reduction. I believe giving every Canadian a chance to better themselves is extremely important, and now that we have legislation that allows for the possession of cannabis and the use of cannabis for people over the age of 18 in Canada, we need to be able to make sure that nothing is holding them back. Having this record suspension so that they can have better lives is key when it comes to a poverty reduction strategy, and it is one of the things that should be implemented for that strategy.

Law enforcement seems to be somewhat supportive. It is off and on. However, as we just heard from the previous speaker, sometimes people had reduced charges. For instance, people trafficking on the streets or who had something else in their possession may have had a reduced charge. There may have been other petty crimes like that, but the possession of cannabis was seen and may have been the only charge laid.

As the previous speaker said, it would be really nice if we could find out more, but what more do we need to do? At the end of the day, it would definitely slow down the process and would not make the process as expedient as people would wish. However, it is important, because sometimes people who have committed much greater crimes have only this possession conviction on their record. In some cases, it was the only offence for which a person could be found guilty, or it may have been a plea deal or a variety of things like that.

Some Canadians, like the NDP, are asking for full expungement. However, I question full expungement because of those cases in which a person has been able to get the charges reduced to simple possession.

There were several common sense amendments put forward by the Conservative Party that were defeated.

Those who had fines and had never paid them would still be eligible for this program, which defeats the whole purpose of having a fine. This is one thing that I am really concerned with. If, let us say, a person has a fine from 20 years ago sitting on their record, it would also be expunged. However, if my mom had a fine, for example, she would be at the station paying it the very next day, because that is who she is. She is a very honourable person. There are some people who may forget, which is one thing, but there are people who just choose not to pay the fine, and they would have this service as well, so at the end of the day, was there any penalty? The answer would be no.

I also think that the surcharge should be up to those individuals with unpaid fines and should not be laid upon the taxpayer.

One thing I like is the amendment that would allow the swearing of an affidavit. Many times I have helped people who have tried to get their records. They have gone to the courthouses and police stations, but sometimes getting those records has been extremely difficult, so the opportunity to swear an affidavit is a very positive amendment. I congratulate all parties who supported it.

Turning back to the legislation, a criminal record showing that charges were withdrawn or that there was an acquittal can have negative effects and can be an obstacle for people wanting to volunteer at their child's school. For years I volunteered at my children's schools in reading programs or on school trips, although not so much now that I am a member of Parliament. However, if a person has been charged with simple possession in the past—which, let us be honest, has happened to a lot of Canadians—that person is not allowed to volunteer at their child's school or for a school trip. If this was something that happened when they were 18 years old and now they are taking their 10-year-old on a school trip, it is just really out there.

We have these screenings because children are vulnerable and we want to make sure that the children have the best opportunity to be with the best role models, but a simple possession charge does not make a person a horrific human being. It is so important that we allow those people to also be involved, whether it is volunteering at food banks, schools, or churches, or at many organizations where a person's criminal record must be clean. These are big concerns.

This goes to the idea of where the NDP would go. What would happen if there was expungement? There are a lot of issues with that. People with a criminal record would be unable to work at a bank, at most government jobs, as insurance or real estate brokers, taxi drivers, police officers, or private investigators. They would be unable to work at restaurants where alcohol is served and, as I said, as volunteers.

We have to give people opportunities, and sometimes it is as simple as giving them a second chance.

Therefore, I am pleased to support the bill before us. As with any other piece of legislation, we will have to look at it and make sure that it is doing exactly what it is supposed to be doing. We have to make sure that it does what it is supposed to do for the people who are supposed to gain the ability to have their sentences removed.

Let us do this while looking ahead and also looking behind to make sure that we have done it properly.

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2019 / 3:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Jim Eglinski Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Madam Speaker, the Conservatives' stand was that we were trying to run an efficient government, with a balanced budget. Sometimes, governments must take hard measures, realizing that certain expenses may have to be passed down to the public. It is obvious that not many people are receiving the benefits of our parole program and pardon system.

We would be naive if we did not look at ways of modernizing it. Bill C-93 tries to do that. It should have gone further. It should have been more forceful in looking at electronic means to make it simpler, less costly and more efficient for the government.

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2019 / 3:45 p.m.
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Charlottetown P.E.I.

Liberal

Sean Casey LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries

Madam Speaker, I find it quite fascinating to hear the member for Yellowhead say that Bill C-93 does not go far enough, that it should include some minor offences and that processes should be free and easier to get at.

I invite him to comment on the measures taken by the previous Conservative government, a government of which he was a member. It jacked up application fees, increased the waiting time to the point where the backlog is substantial, as is the hardship for many of the people in the very situations he described. That is the record of the Conservative government.

How does he square that with the position he has taken on this bill?

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2019 / 3:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Jim Eglinski Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak once more to Bill C-93, an act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis.

I will be splitting my time with the member for Elgin—Middlesex—London.

As I said last week, this is a terrible bill. It reminds me of the NAFTA bill. However, sometimes a bill is better than no bill.

As I have said many times in the House, I was never in favour of the legalization of marijuana, Bill C-45, which was another typically ill-conceived bill brought in by the Liberal government.

I will support the Bill C-93 because there is a common-sense element to it.

Although I did not support legalization, I am not naive enough to say that it was not right to look at the whole cannabis strategy in Canada. Let us face it, we are not the only ones. Many other countries have legalized or decriminalized marijuana. We only have to look at our closest and best trading partners, the good old U.S.A.

The use of marijuana has been legalized and decriminalized in Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, the District of Columbia, Mariana Islands and Guam. Many of these jurisdictions are looking at or have commenced programs to get rid of the old cannabis-related charges for simple possession. There are several different programs being looked at. Some are similar to this bill, Bill C-93. Some are similar to what the NDP has been pushing, which is expungement.

We have heard from many of my colleagues in the House about the injustices that have taken place with respect to Canadians who have records for simple possession of marijuana. Stories have been told about people being turned back at the U.S. border. However, in my research, I have found the same things are happening in the United States. I will provide two cases. We have heard this before with respect to our people, just not south of the border. I will not to give their names to protect their identity.

A 70-year-old retired carpenter in the United States, who once ran for the Senate, was convicted back in 1968 for simple possession. His conviction caused him to be refused entry into Canada and he is unable to purchase a firearm in the United States.

Another gentleman, a professional lighting technician, worked for Willy Nelson for a time. Because of a misdemeanour drug charge as a youth, he was unable to accompany the band on tour to Canada.

Therefore, I strongly believe we need to remove the records for Canadians who were charged with simple possession of marijuana. Clearing people's records can remove barriers to employment and housing.

Many groups in Canada have become victims because of the area they live in and the environment around them. Many are good people who made the wrong choice at the wrong time. That is why I support Bill C-93, although I feel the bill did not go far enough. It should have, and could have, looked at many minor Criminal Code offences, such as public mischief and wilful damage, offences we call misdemeanours in the Criminal Code. There is always room to fix things. Maybe sometime in the future Bill C-93 coanbe fixed.

I spoke about this last week. In California, Code for America has brought out a program called “Clear My Record”. It is a computerized program that allows for the expedient removal of simple criminal code records, such as the simple possession of marijuana.

From the list of states I mentioned previously, nearly every one has passed laws that allow people to clear or change their criminal records. Those states recognize the impact on the economy and on the lives of families when millions are shut out of the workforce or unable to fully reintegrate into their communities because of criminal records from their past. I was shocked to learn, in my research on Bill C-93, that one in three people had a criminal record in the United States.

I also discovered that those states that had a cumbersome, overly complicated system of removing one's record failed in their goals. Only a small fraction of the tens of millions of eligible Americans benefited from these laws, which was directly related to being over-complicated, costly and took too much time to do.

“Code for America”, a computerized system that was adopted by California, is a modern 21st century technology that is quick, efficient and benefits the recipients. “Clear my Record” is a free online tool that assists people in California to navigate the complicate process of clearing their records. People can fill out a short, easy to understand application online that typically takes 10 minutes to get connected to a legal authority.

Jazmyn Latimer and Ben Golder, who co-developed the program, realized there was a problem when they looked into how many people were taking advantage of getting their records expunged. They found that less than 8% of the people who qualified accomplished it, simply because the system was opaque, hard to understand and navigate and costly, both for the people with the records and for the government. Does this sound like Bill C-93? It very much does.

I made recommendations to Bill C-93 during committee that the Canadian Parole Board look at electronic means of modernizing the way we do business. We are still following 20th century technology, trying to do too much by hand. Why? I could not get an answer for that.

The state of California, which has implemented the electronic process, has plans to try to clear over 250,000 cannabis-related convictions by 2020. That is probably as many as we have in Canada, and if not, a lot more. I hope it succeeds.

As well, I hope our Parole Board looks at an electronic process for Canadians with all possession charges and to expand in the future to look at other minor Criminal Code offences. We owe it to Canadians to make this system simple and free so they can get rid of their records, live better lives and be less of a burden on society.