Mr. Speaker, it always a pleasure to rise to support a colleague's bill, especially when that colleague is the hon. member for Victoria. I admire the way he manages files and provides pertinent answers to our questions when we are discussing the matter with him. I must admit, he has a talent for getting to the heart of the issue.
One thing that is seriously starting to grate on me after nearly eight years in the House of Commons is having to say that a bill is a step in the right direction. It is as though we are never able to fully resolve an issue and close a file and say that the matter is resolved and we can tackle another problem and find the best solutions.
That is exactly what the member for Victoria has done with this bill, however; he even stated what he sadly cannot do within the confines of a private member's bill. Nevertheless, he still very much hopes that Bill C-415 will get the ball rolling and motivate the government to either add what he was not able to include and pass this bill or, alternatively, overhaul Bill C-93, the counterpart of this bill that, to my mind, is not up to snuff.
After speaking with my colleague from Victoria, I was preparing a theoretical and even intellectual presentation on the merits of expunging records for simple possession of cannabis compared to the suspension of records. However, reality caught up with me in my riding. I will therefore provide an overview of a case I had to deal with in my own riding and which clearly shows, in black and white, that the government's Bill C-93 does not go far enough and that Bill C-415 really does take a step in the right direction. I do not believe you could find a better example.
I got a phone call from one of my constituents who was in a bit of a panic. Actually, it was a complete panic. I will not name names or say anything that would give away this person's identity, but he is a musician. I have a soft spot for those in the music business because I was a musician myself for many years. This particular musician is on an international tour with a band. They have played in England, several European countries, and many cities across Canada. Now the band is set to play 15 or 20 American cities. Things are going well. It is probably the best tour of this musician's career. A musician's life is not necessarily easy and it is not always a very lucrative career either. Artists really have to have a strong conviction that they are making an essential contribution to society.
Everything is going well for this musician. The whole group, both the musicians and the trucks with the equipment, arrive at the American border. They fill out the necessary paperwork and cross the border. Everyone gets through no problem except for this individual, because border officials saw that he had been charged with simple marijuana possession 25 years ago for one gram of cannabis that he forgot was in his pocket. He is barred from entering the U.S. The band is supposed to play 15 to 20 shows in the United States and they have just lost one of their musicians. They either have to find a replacement or cancel that leg of the international tour because this individual was charged for the possession of one gram of marijuana 25 years ago.
Obviously, the conviction happened 25 years ago and it is on his record. It is not difficult to imagine how someone could forget this after 25 years. It is kind of laughable, especially since society has evolved in the meantime.
This musician is therefore unable to do the tour. He called me to ask how this situation could be fixed as quickly as possible so that he could join the band for the rest of the American tour, since this record did not cause problems anywhere else in the world.
There are all kinds of conditions that you have to meet. You cannot request a pardon until at least five years have passed since the conviction. After 20 years, that condition is fairly easy to meet. Then, you must pay $631 to apply. Whether this amount is high or not high enough is a matter of perspective, as it is directly linked to the individual's annual income. For a musician, $631 could easily represent one or two shows where he is working for the Crown and not for his family or himself. In addition, he has to track down certain documents, like police reports and legal documents. This takes time, and deciding whether he can continue the tour is a time-sensitive decision.
To top it all off, you have to wait 24 months for a response. There is your answer for the American part of the tour. This is a real problem, since Parliament decided this was no longer a relevant issue in 2019. We legalized simple possession of marijuana. The whole time that this government was preparing the legislation, it never bothered to consider what would happen the day after this bill passed.
How do we make sure that a crime that is not considered a crime anymore no longer weighs on people who committed it in the past? If society has evolved to the point of recognizing marijuana as legal, there is no reason in the world to make people suffer permanently for doing something that is no longer seen as a crime. However, their records live on.
If we go with the record suspension approach proposed in the government's Bill C-93, it would be too little, too late, because the suspension would not make the criminal record disappear. The name says it all. The record is suspended. I will admit that the government is showing openness by eliminating the fee to apply for a record suspension. In contrast, the process of expungement is very clear. With expungement, all existing files relating to the conviction are erased, and the slate is wiped clean, as if the crime had ever happened. That also enables anyone with such a conviction on their record to answer “no” with perfect confidence and honesty whenever they are asked if they have a criminal record, because the record has basically disappeared and the offence is deemed never to have been committed. That is an important difference proposed in Bill C-415.
My time is almost up. I had so much more to talk about, but the case I mentioned is probably more compelling than anything I could say. I urge all members to make sure they really understand the difference between expungement and suspension and to support the bill introduced by my colleague from Victoria.