The federal government has tabled a bill to expedite the process for granting pardons for Canadians with criminal records for simple possession of cannabis.
The government announced Bill C-93, an amendment to the Criminal Records Act, Friday afternoon—once it is law Canadians with simple possession records will be able to apply to have their records suspended with no wait time, and without having to pay the $631 fee. Normally, in order to have a criminal record suspended, a person would have to wait five years after completing their sentence.
As estimated 500,000 Canadians have a record for simple possession. Criminal records impact a person’s ability to find employment, travel, volunteer, and secure housing.
Bill Blair, minister for border security and organized crime reduction, said the legislation will restore “a just situation” for Canadians convicted of simple possession. He said most of us know someone who has a pot possession conviction over a “youthful indiscretion.”
“Since that conviction they have led otherwise exemplary lives and we believe they deserve an opportunity for a fresh start,” he said.
Blair also recognized that people of colour are overrepresented in pot possession arrests in Canada. A VICE News investigation from last April found that police arrest black and Indigenous people for pot possession at a higher rate than white people, despite the fact that there is no difference in pot consumption amongst the groups.
Some critics have noted the government is not offering people with possession records an expungement, which would completely clear their record. A pardon suspends the conviction but doesn’t wipe it.
Asked why the government isn’t extending an expedited pardon process for all non-violent cannabis crimes, Blair said the regular pardon process is still open to people convicted of such offences.
He said trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking—which is what dispensary employees are frequently charged with—“include people who have been involved in enterprise crime… and organized crime.”
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the government wanted to deal with simple possession as quickly as possible, and that “there may be future considerations to be given.”
Goodale said he is hopeful the bill will be passed into law by this summer.
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