Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley.
Colleagues, 50 years ago, the imminent astronomer Carl Sagan wrote an article under the pseudonym Mr. X. He wrote about cannabis, noting that “the illegality of cannabis is outrageous”. He said, on legalization specifically, “I hope that time isn’t too distant”.
That was 50 years ago.
I am going to start by commending and recognizing the progress we have made. If someone had asked me five or 10 years ago whether I would see cannabis legalized in my lifetime, I would have been incredibly skeptical, yet in October of last year, that is exactly what the government did, following through on a significant promise to treat it as a public health issue but also to treat Canadians as the responsible adults we are.
I will support Bill C-93. It would waive the five-year waiting period. It would waive the $631 fee.
The Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction has noted that as many as 400,000 Canadians have criminal records for simple possession of cannabis. That is something we ought to correct as much as possible, because we know the impact of a criminal record on one's ability to secure housing, employment and ability to travel.
I will be supporting Bill C-93, but that, to me, is obvious and straightforward. I also think the bill ought to go further, and I hope to see the committee make amendments so that it does.
First, Canadians and colleagues should understand the difference between a pardon and an expungement. According to the Parole Board of Canada, the purpose of a record suspension or a pardon is to remove barriers to reintegration that can be associated with a criminal record. The idea is that we say, “You are forgiven. Move on with your life.” With respect to expungement, the government recognizes that the conviction was for an act that should never have been a crime at all and that these individuals should not be viewed as former offenders. Instead, we say, “We are sorry. We made a mistake. We should never have done this in the first place.”
With respect to cannabis possession, and we are not talking about trafficking, it is straightforward that we never should have made this a crime in the first place and that expungement is the proper answer.
The government has made technical arguments with respect to travel. I trust that the committee will address those. There is no difference at the American border with respect to a pardon or an expungement. In the hands of the American officers, they enforce their laws as they see fit. We should be concerned with our domestic laws.
I will say this. If we can help people move forward with their lives in a more significant way, we should seize the opportunity. An expungement will help Canadians who are impacted by a criminal record more so than a pardon would.
Again, just as a clarifying note on the difference between a pardon and expungement, this really hits home when we see the great differences between governments. We are seeing this in Ontario right now, where the pendulum is swinging so incredibly hard in the opposite direction. A different government could actually restore records when people have been pardoned. The records are simply set aside. A different government could never restore criminal records if they were properly deleted through the expungement process.
I commend the member from Victoria for putting Bill C-415 forward, but I would also note that this is grassroots Liberal policy. I am going to read a resolution from the 2012 Liberal biennial convention put forward by the Young Liberals of Canada and supported by over 80% of grassroots Liberals at the time:
Be it further resolved that a new Liberal government will extend amnesty to all Canadians previously convicted of simple and minimal marijuana possession, and ensure the elimination of all criminal records related thereto;
If we want to be consistent with our legalization promise that tracks back to this resolution, amnesty is the answer.
Most significantly, the most important argument is that we have to correct an injustice. The criminalization of cannabis was a racial injustice in original purpose and current effect.
I want to read a direct quote from Harry Anslinger, America's first drug czar. It is not a positive quote. It is an offensive quote. He warned that “Reefer makes darkies think they're as good as white men.”
Here in Canada, Emily Murphy, one of the Famous Five, an otherwise celebrated women's rights activist, led a temperance movement grounded in the belief that “aliens of colour” used drugs to corrupt the white race.
If we look at the modern application of these laws, we see a Toronto Star investigation from 2017 which found that black people with no criminal record were three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis than white people. That was in 2017. There was a vice investigation subsequently that made access to information requests to police agencies across the country. It found, for example, in Regina, that indigenous people represented 41% of cannabis arrests in 2015 and 2016, but they were only 9.3% of the total population.
We see the Federation of Black Canadians and the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers stand up in support of going further for amnesty. They are doing so because it was a racial injustice. The government argues that the injustice was in the application of the law; it was not inherent in the law. However, for anyone who understands how we interpret our constitutional law and how we might find a law unconstitutional, we consider the purpose of the law, but we also consider the effect of the law. So too with respect to expungement, it is not only if it is inherently an injustice, but also if it is an applied injustice.
It is arguable whether the original purpose, as I have noted, ought not to be considered as well when we talk about the injustice. I would argue that this was inherently an injustice. I read the Le Dain commission in 1970, which said, “There can be no doubt that Canada’s drug laws were for a long time primarily associated in the minds of its legislators and the public with general attitudes and policy towards persons of Asiatic origin.”
The point is this. We fear different drugs today because we used to fear different people.
The last point I want to make is that if we set aside the most important arguments with respect to racial injustice and we consider basic common sense, almost half of Canadians have self-reported using cannabis in their lifetime. Are half of Canadians criminals? When cannabis is less harmful than the six-pack that people take to a party or a mickey of vodka, should people who possess cannabis, again not traffickers, ever be thought of as criminals? The obvious answer is no, in the same way that I do not think if people take a six-pack to a party they are criminals. In taking a less harmful substance, they ought not to be considered criminals, and we as legislators should cure that. We have the capacity to cure it. We could cure that simply by improving the law before us.
The simple question that we all have to answer is whether the conduct in question is deserving of a criminal record. Demonstrably, the answer is no. It never should have been illegal in the first place.
I support Bill C-93 for moving in the right direction, but we should do what is right when we have the opportunity. We should correct this injustice.