Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise at the second reading of Bill C-93, an act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis.
During the last election, we committed to legalizing and regulating cannabis, and legislation doing exactly that took effect last fall. As a member of the Standing Committee on Health, I am proud to have been part of the committee's review of the Cannabis Act. We now have a regulated system that keeps cannabis out of the hands of youth and profits out of the hands of criminals.
At that time, the government signalled that it would turn its attention to dealing with the criminal records created under the old regime. We now have before us Bill C-93, legislation that would make it easier for individuals who have been previously convicted only of simple possession of cannabis to have their records cleared.
Bill C-93 proposes an expedited process for receiving a pardon, which is also known as a record suspension. The usual $631 application fee would be waived, as would the usual waiting period, which can be as long as 10 years. The bill would reduce barriers to full participation in society for these individuals. It would allow them greater access to job opportunities, educational programs, housing and even the ability to simply volunteer in their communities. It would make things more fair. It would enhance public safety by allowing people to reintegrate into society. It would fulfill an important commitment to Canadians in delivering on this new regime.
This is the first time in history that both the application fee and wait period for a pardon would be waived. This unprecedented measure is a strong statement, recognizing that convictions for simple possession of cannabis have resulted in hardship for many Canadians and that certain populations, including members of black and indigenous communities, have been disproportionately affected.
For my part today, I would like to delve a little deeper into the nuts and bolts of the legislation. To begin with, Bill C-93 proposes to amend the Criminal Records Act. It would waive the fee, waiting period and certain subjective criteria for people convicted only of simple possession of cannabis under one of three acts: the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act; the Narcotic Control Act, which existed until the 1990s; and the National Defence Act.
Eligibility would not be based on the amount possessed but rather on the purpose. People would be eligible if possession were for personal use only. People would not be eligible if there were any trafficking or production involved. In order to qualify for the waived wait period, an applicant would have to demonstrate to the Parole Board of Canada some basic facts: first, that the substance they possessed was cannabis; second, that their sentence was completed; and third, that the conviction was only for possession for personal use. To do so, applicants would provide standard police and court documents. The Parole Board would be available to help people through the process by email or phone.
As a way of further expediting the process, the decision to grant a pardon would not be discretionary. Usually, a Parole Board member assesses pardon applications to decide whether an applicant has been of good conduct and whether a pardon would give them some measurable benefit. Discretion based on subjective criteria would not apply here. Instead, the Parole Board would be required to issue a pardon, as long as people are eligible and have completed their sentences. There would be nothing else to consider. The application would therefore be processed much more quickly by Parole Board staff.
Once a pardon is ordered, the Parole Board would notify the RCMP to have the records sequestered in the national repository of criminal records. Once that is done, the RCMP would notify other federal agencies, and the Parole Board would alert provincial, territorial and municipal partners. For instance, it would mean that a criminal record check by a prospective employer or landlord would come up empty. As well, the records could only be disclosed or reinstated in exceptional circumstances. In practice, for cannabis possession, the only likely scenario in which anyone would ever see a record again would be if they commit a new criminal offence.
Bill C-93 would fulfill our commitment to creating a simplified process for people with convictions for cannabis possession to shed their criminal records, along with the associated burdens and stigma.
Work is also continuing on broader pardons reform, informed by consultations held by the Parole Board and Public Safety Canada as well as a recent study by the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
That study, initiated by the member for Saint John—Rothesay, led to thoughtful and unanimous recommendations calling for pardons to become more accessible, not just for cannabis possession but across the board. I am glad that Parliament has been seized with that issue and I look forward to progress on that front.
For the moment, though, we have an opportunity to move forward right now with the targeted recourse in Bill C-93. As I have noted, this further enhances public safety by reducing the barriers to reintegration associated with a criminal record.
Many Canadians are stuck with a criminal record for activity that is no longer considered a crime. It is about time we make things fairer for those Canadians who have been living crime-free. That is why I offer my full support to Bill C-93. I encourage all my colleagues to do the right thing and join me in making sure this bill moves forward.