Cannabis became legal in Canada on Oct. 17, but some Canadians are still facing repercussions of when the drug was still illegal.
The morning of Oct. 17, the Liberals said they are going to put forward a bill to pardon criminal records from cannabis possession convictions, but MP Murray Rankin said that’s not good enough.
“It makes all the world of difference for people who have to fill out forms and say they do or don’t have convictions for criminal activity,” Rankin said Wednesday. “My bill is about expungement of records for people who have simple possession charges, people who have been convicted of what after today is a totally legal offence.”
By expunging the criminal offence, it’s deemed by law not to have happened. It affects applications for housing, jobs or trying to cross the U.S. border, which currently does not recognize pardons, Rankin said.
Rankin introduced his own bill in Parliament on Oct. 4, less than two weeks before the Cannabis Act came into effect. He said it was ironic that the government was critical of the provinces for not being ready for the Oct. 17 legalization, but don’t have their bill about pardons written. He’s still hoping he can work with the Liberals on their bill, although his is now before Parliament.
“They’re going to bring in a pardon regime, which is a very half-baked measure that won’t do what needs to be done.”
Minister Goodale said they are not considering expungement, although, like Rankin’s bill, they would make the process of applying to clear a criminal record quick and free. Currently, there is a $631 fee for the application.
“Not a lot of poor Indigenous or inner-city blacks in Toronto are going to have that kind of money to apply. The sad part is those are the very people we need to help,” Rankin said. “This is a matter of justice.”
Rankin argues that possession of cannabis does qualify for expungement. Goodale said it is not a historical injustice, but Rankin points to the disproportionate number of black or Indigenous Canadians who were convicted of possession.
In the Cannabis Stats Hub created by Statistics Canada, it shows that criminal offences of possessing cannabis were nearly twice as high in B.C. as the national average per population. More than 500,000 Canadians have criminal records of possession.
Rankin said he has not heard of what will happen to Canadians currently serving time for possessing cannabis, but said he was told there are some.