Mr. Speaker, during the last election, we promised to legalize and regulate cannabis. In October, we kept that promise.
The goal was to be more effective in keeping cannabis away from our kids and reduce the illegal profits of organized crime. As L'actualité journalist Alec Castonguay recently noted, “Organized crime no longer has a complete monopoly over the cannabis market. It is losing its footing.” That is great news.
That is not all. Bill C-93, which was strengthened by a few amendments made in committee, will enable Canadians with a criminal record for simple cannabis possession to have their record quickly suspended so they can move on with their lives.
Bill C-93 would allow Canadians with criminal records for simple possession of cannabis to get pardons from the Parole Board with no application fee and no wait time.
Getting a pardon means that if a prospective employer or a landlord runs a criminal record check, it will come up empty. That makes it much easier for people to find a job or a place to live. It also makes it easier to get an education, to travel or just volunteer with a kids' hockey team.
Members of certain communities, particularly people of African descent and indigenous Canadians, have been disproportionately affected by the counter-productive criminalization of cannabis that we finally ended last fall. That is why we have taken the unprecedented steps of waiving the fee and the waiting period.
Without this bill, applicants would have to pay a $631 fee and wait five to 10 years to have their criminal records suspended. Bill C-93 will completely eliminate those obstacles.
Bill C-93 also eliminates the usual subjective criteria applied by the Parole Board of Canada. Usually, the Parole Board member who examines an application for pardon must take into consideration the good conduct of the applicant and determine whether a pardon would bring that individual a measurable benefit. However, no discretionary factors will be taken into account in applications submitted under Bill C-93.
Everything I have mentioned thus far, from the elimination of the $631 fee to the elimination of the waiting period of up to 10 years and the elimination of subjective criteria, was in the original version of this bill. The public safety committee has studied the legislation and sent it back to us with several additional provisions that make it even stronger.
Thanks to an amendment from the member for Brampton North, a cannabis possession conviction will not count against an individual if that individual is applying for a pardon for other prior offences.
An amendment from the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands ensures that cannabis possession convictions pardoned under Bill C-93 cannot be reinstated simply on the basis of the person no longer being “of good conduct”.
Incidentally, it is important to mention that when it comes to the permanence of pardons, it is worth remembering that half a million pardons have been issued in Canada since 1970, and 95% of them are still in effect.
Records are reinstated only in exceptional circumstances, such as the commission of a new offence, and the amendment from the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands will make sure that for people pardoned under this legislation, that will no longer apply.
The bill also now includes an important amendment from the member for Toronto—Danforth, allowing people to apply for expedited pardons for cannabis possession even if they have outstanding fines associated with their conviction.
Why is that important? One of the main reasons people apply for pardons is to be able to get a job and earn a paycheque. That can be a catch-22 for people who need a pardon to earn money but need money to get a pardon. We were already waiving the $631 fee and now, even if people still owe a fine or a surcharge, they can get their pardon anyway.
That brings me to the report stage amendments the government is presenting today.
The first relates to the amendment made in committee, which I just mentioned. As things stand, the applicant has to provide the board with police and court documents demonstrating the nature of the conviction. Under Bill C-93, the applicant must demonstrate that the substance in question was indeed cannabis and that there is no outstanding sentence associated with the offence.
Information about sentences can usually be found in court documents. Given that unpaid fines will no longer matter, we propose amending the bill such that court records are no longer required from applicants whose only sentence was a fine. That would address the committee's recommendation that the government find more ways to make pardons for simple possession of cannabis even more accessible. We continue to work with the Parole Board of Canada to ensure that as many people as possible benefit from this new system.
There was another amendment that was made at committee, and I thank the member for Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner for proposing it. It won the unanimous support of the committee, and I understand why.
It is possible in certain cases that relevant police and court records simply will not be available, especially if a lot of time has passed. In those cases, the member's proposal was to let applicants submit sworn statements saying that their only conviction was for simple possession of cannabis. The Parole Board would then make inquiries and could issue a pardon if it were ultimately convinced. The principle of this amendment is in line with other measures in Bill C-93 that aim to make pardons for cannabis possession as accessible as possible.
The problem is that, unfortunately, it is not likely to work in practice. If someone has a criminal record that says “possession of a controlled substance” but there are no police or court records available to prove that it was cannabis, that person would submit a sworn statement. The Parole Board would then make inquiries, and the only inquiry it could really make would be to go back to the police and the court and ask them to double-check. When the response comes back saying, “We told you the first time, we don't have those records”, there would be no way for the board to be sure what the substance was. The person could still get a pardon, but he or she would have to follow the usual process.
Unfortunately, therefore, the use of sworn statements in this context would result in more work for Parole Board staff, as well as for local police and court officials, but not more accessible pardons for Canadians, which is the goal of this piece of legislation. That is why we are proposing to remove it from the bill.
This bill is a major step forward that will change the lives of Canadians who have been stigmatized by convictions for simple possession of cannabis. Four years ago, when some people wanted to maintain the prohibition on cannabis or just wanted to decriminalize it, which would have meant fining marginalized people, we proposed legalizing it, period.
We made legalization happen. I encourage all my colleagues to support Bill C-93 so that people weighed down by a criminal record for simple possession of cannabis can rid themselves of that burden quickly.