Mr. Speaker, my thoughts are with the journalists who have to fact check one of Donald Trump's speeches. They must dread finding that the fact checking is longer than the speech. I felt a bit like that when I was listening to the member for Winnipeg North. The 10-minute question period was not even long enough to correct the facts. If the member had listened to the testimony from the minister and departmental officials in committee, he would have seen just how problematic his comments were.
Bill C-93 arrived at the eleventh hour of this Parliament. Record suspension for simple cannabis possession should have been included in the government's legalization bill. It is crucial to make some distinctions here. I heard a number of members on both sides of the House, myself included, use the word “pardon”, but there is an important distinction to be made.
First, the debate on this bill includes a lot of talk about Canadians being able to cross the border. In the United States, being granted a pardon has a different connotation. Any lawyer will tell you that. In the United states, that is something only the executive branch can do. Giving an individual a presidential pardon, for example, means eliminating their criminal record and giving them a full pardon. In Canada, however, the individual continues to have a criminal record. I will come back to that.
Several years ago, when the Conservative government decided to call this a criminal record suspension, it had a very clear intention, namely to remind those concerned that they had not been pardoned and that the government had only done them the favour of suspending their criminal record. It is often the vulnerable who end up in a precarious situation. They generally try to get a pardon, which is now being called a record suspension, in order to get a job, rent an apartment or do volunteer work. Statistics show that 95% are not recidivists. Calling this a pardon did not pose any problems, since the program itself required these people to demonstrate good behaviour for a number of years before they were able to submit an application.
This change might appear insignificant or semantic to some people who, like us, are in a position of privilege. However, a study done by the Department of Public Safety has acknowledged that these changes are needed. The minister himself said several years ago that this would be rectified in the course of a much-needed reform of the record suspension program, and yet it still has not been done. Unfortunately, with the election just a few months away, we do not expect this to get done, which is really too bad.
This is part of the broader debate we have already had on several occasions. Let us deal specifically with record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis. Several things came to light during the debate and in committee. First of all, suspending the criminal record does not make it disappear, and this has a number of repercussions. For instance, on job applications, candidates are sometimes asked whether they have ever had a criminal record for which they were granted a suspension.
At committee, like a good politician with several decades of experience, the minister was very careful to specify that the act prohibits employers from discriminating against candidates who have been granted suspensions. Fortunately, departmental officials were there, and they interrupted to clarify that there is nothing in the act to stop employers from asking the question. In fact, the act even specifies that candidates must answer honestly.
I do not know what my colleagues think, but anyone who thinks people will feel protected just because the law prohibits discrimination and that candidates for all kinds of positions and in all spheres of life have never experienced discrimination must be dreaming.
The people in this situation who would try to get a job are the very same people who would then struggle to get legal aid to file a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, or even to launch more of a legal complaint. Anyone who says this is insignificant is completely ignoring the reality of those people.
Who are those people? They are racialized, indigenous and young Canadians, Canadians who are in a particular situation that makes it even more difficult for them under normal circumstances, much less with a criminal record in their file, one for which they cannot get proper recourse or remediation through expungement just by having a record suspension.
Let me provide some examples. When we look at cities like Toronto and Halifax, black Canadians are disproportionately more likely to have a criminal record for nothing but simple possession of cannabis. In cities like Regina, indigenous people are 10 times more likely than white Canadians to have a criminal record for simple possession of cannabis.
The Minister of Border Security, under the different portfolios he has managed since he has come to this House, said in 2016 that one of the great injustices in the country was that these Canadians were disproportionately impacted by records for simple possession of cannabis. That is interesting. Why? When Bill C-66 was adopted in this place, which sought to remediate the grave injustice LGBTQ Canadians were subjected to because of the criminalization of their lives due to their sexual orientation, the government rightly pointed out that it was a historic injustice.
The problem now, and this is not to pit communities against each other, is that the Minister of Public Safety is using Bill C-66 as an arbitrary, legally non-existent crutch to identify that there is somehow a ceiling for what needs to exist to expunge criminal records, which is a grave injustice.
With regard to this grave historic injustice, I asked the Prime Minister himself questions about it in the House. He said that, yes, it was disappointing and distressing to see this, and that it was obviously unfair, but he refused to call it an injustice.
When I questioned the minister in committee, he went out of his way to avoid using the word, even though another minister had used it back then, and he said that society's grave injustices should depend on what the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms defines as a violation.
This minister was wrong, because, as distinguished lawyer Kent Roach has said, the Charter should be the minimum, not the maximum, in terms of our sense of justice. Citing rulings from the Supreme Court of Canada, Annamaria Enenajor, the director of the Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty, told the committee that a law can be discriminatory in its application without being discriminatory on its face.
In other words, if a law starts out with good intentions but leads to a discriminatory outcome, it can still be considered a discriminatory law, and if a law or application of a law is discriminatory, that means an injustice has been committed.
That is why we want criminal records to be expunged and not just suspended. The minister seems to be insisting on this point, but he cannot say why. He keeps referring to Bill C-66.
Can we, as Canadians, say that while a grave, historic injustice was done to the LGBTQ community, we cannot say the same thing about the application of the law regarding the possession of a drug that is now legal, namely, cannabis? This was an injustice largely done to vulnerable communities. I find that really troubling.
On that note, Solomon Friedman, a criminal defence lawyer who was at our committee last week, said that this law is not a bad thing, and it is good that we are putting in place mechanisms for these Canadians to more easily receive pardons. In the words of many witnesses and experts, it is the absolute bare minimum. As Mr. Friedman said in committee, certainly we can do better than the absolute bare minimum, especially for indigenous, racialized and other Canadians who are in vulnerable situations.
It is not just a distinction between expungement and record suspension. It is also an issue of whether it is automatic. This legislation would still make Canadians jump through the crazy hoops that exist to obtain a record suspension. The government thinks it has solved that because it would be free of charge and there would be no wait times. However, the reality is different.
When the public safety committee, which I am the vice-chair of, did a study on how we can reform the record suspension program and fix all the issues it has, one of the things that came up time and time again, which all parties agreed on, was the fact the most exorbitant part of the process and the costs imposed on these Canadians is not the cost to apply, which is what the government would be waiving. It is the fact that people have to go to a municipal court and a provincial court. They have to get their fingerprint records. They have to go to the police station. Two Conservative members who are former police officers validated all this information. They said that it is indeed extremely labourious for these Canadians to obtain all those things.
As officials confirmed at committee, indeed it would not be a cost-free process, no matter what members in this House on the government side attempt to tell us.
The costs associated with this process must therefore be assumed by individuals who often do not have the means and are actually applying for the suspension to be able to get a job. Bill C-93 currently before the House maintains certain mechanisms that prevent people from getting their criminal records suspended. It is not true that anyone who has a criminal record for simple possession of cannabis just has to fill out a form for that to happen. That does not just magically happen. This will not be the case for people who, for example, have administration of justice offences on their records. We are not talking about murderers. We are talking about people who might have an outstanding $50 fine, which would make them ineligible. Departmental officials confirmed that such individuals would not be eligible for the process being offered by the government.
I would like the government to explain why an indigenous person who has a criminal record for simple possession of cannabis and who was unable to go to court because he lives in a remote area cannot get the government to suspend his record because of an unpaid $50 fine. The government says that it cares about the interests of all communities. I do not understand how that is in the interests of people who are simply looking to sort out the criminal record they have for something that is now legal and ensure it is no longer a burden that prevents them from renting an apartment, getting a job or volunteering.
I am also talking about travelling across the border. I almost fell off my chair when I heard what the minister said in committee. He got two bills passed in his name that increase the amount of information we share with the United States. He said that he was sorry, but that the Americans had been keeping a lot of information about us for far too long, and so we could not really control what they do at the border. In passing, I am astounded that the minister recognizes that this is a problem, but yet, every time we raise this issue in debate, he tells us it is not a big deal and we should not worry because the United States is our ally.
There is, however, good reason to worry. I said at the outset that the Americans do not make the same distinction as we do between a pardon and a record suspension. The minister tried to give the most ridiculous excuse that I think I have ever heard in my eight years as an MP. He said that one of the reasons why it was better for people to have their record suspended was because a suspension leaves a paper trail, which would give them the documentary proof they needed at the border.
I see two problems with that.
After I asked the question, the department's staff confirmed that with the passage of Bill C-66, which would expunge records, those affected will actually receive written confirmation. It's a miracle.
Second, no one can tell me that, in a G7 country, we are unable to implement a mechanism to provide confirmation that a record has been expunged. As some might say, my word, I do not understand how a government can look at something with such a narrow lens when it was elected by stating that it wanted to take a broader view. That is just crazy. It boggles my mind.
In the same vein, that was the one reason that was given, even though witnesses then came and said that a record suspension will not make it any easier to cross the border. A person would still have to jump through all the hoops that the Americans will impose, if they even choose to let the person in at all, which, at the end of the day, as the minister said, remains at their discretion. An expungement means that Canadians do not have to lie at the border, which is obviously the more egregious offence. However, the priority here is what is happening domestically. It is about these folks being able to get jobs, rent apartments, volunteer and do all the things that sometimes a criminal record can prevent them from doing.
I want to go back to the notion of the administrative burden. The minister is talking about jumping through hoops, saying that it is about paperwork, this, that and the other thing. I asked the minister why it could not be made automatic, and he told me, basically, that it would be too much work. I am paraphrasing, and I am sure he would disagree with my characterization of this, but every other stakeholder I spoke to shared this characterization of what he said.
Apparently, the federal government believes, and it told us, that it would take 10 years to expunge 250,000 records. Well, when we look at the Phoenix debacle, maybe it is right. Maybe the government finally recognized its own ineptitude in managing these files. However, it is absurd to think that somehow the government is going to put the burden on vulnerable Canadians and make them do this process on their own, which many will not even be aware of, will not have the money to pay for and will not even know where to go for. The government could make it automatic, but, sorry, the Parole Board of Canada might have too much work to do, God forbid. As far as I am concerned, that is completely unacceptable when we look at the individuals who are affected by this particular issue.
Certainly, we understand that government databases are no treat to navigate, but there has to be a way that the government can somehow dream a little more, as the Liberals promised they would when they got elected, and somehow find a way to deal with 250,000 records.
With Bill C-66, of the 9,000 LGBTQ Canadians who were criminalized by the Criminal Code, seven have applied so far through that process. Does the government expect me to believe that because officials came to committee and told us not to worry and that they are going to have a non-traditional marketing campaign using social media and other things, the government will make sure that these Canadians know that this process exists? It is laughable. Quite frankly, it is pathetic.
It should have been part of the process from the beginning.
I want to qualify that. The previous speaker tried to explain the NDP's position in terms of decriminalization. It was to prevent these records from piling up that we wanted to move forward on decriminalization before legalization. It was also because we understand that we have to address this as a public health issue and not a public safety issue.
It is exactly because of our core values that we are saying that the right approach is to expunge these records and not to offer a process that is fundamentally problematic.
I will conclude by saying that we had criminal defence lawyers in committee confirm to us that a record suspension, whether given through a process like Bill C-93 or the normal process outside of a special piece of legislation, is always conditional on continued good behaviour.
What does that mean? That is not about someone who is going to go out and commit a horrific crime. That means that the Parole Board of Canada can decide that because someone got caught speeding, going 130 kilometres per hour on a highway, this could be considered. Those things have happened.
I believe this bill is a clear reflection of the Liberal government that has been in power for four years. It is a useless exercise that lets them claim to be progressive when, in reality, they are quite the opposite.