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.