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.