Bill to pardon past pot convictions coming before the end of 2018
OTTAWA – The federal government has announced that it intends to proceed with a plan to issue pardons to Canadians who have past simple possession charges, though it could be some time before those pardons are granted.
The Liberals intend to table additional legislation to "make things fairer" and remove the "stigma" of criminal records for those who have served their sentence, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced at a joint press conference with the main ministers involved on the cannabis file in Ottawa.
The legislation will be brought forward before the end of 2018, and then it still needs to wind its way through Parliament and become law, before the pardons of criminal records can be issued.
These pardons will be available to any Canadians who have criminal records for cases of possession of 30 grams or less, aligning with the new recreational legalized cannabis regime that came into force at midnight. Up until Wednesday this was an offence that could see people issued $1,000 fines and potential jail time.
Under the new law, it is legal for adults in Canada to possess, grow, and use small amounts of recreational cannabis.
Once the sentence has been served, those eligible for the pardons will have access to an application immediately, with no waiting period or fee to apply. Currently, pardons, or record suspensions can sought through the Parole Board of Canada, for a fee of $631, five years after serving your sentence.
Goodale said the government’s aim is to expedite the process as much as possible, though it will take time given the many jurisdictions that will have to be involved.
Goodale said he’s hopeful for co-operation from the opposition parties in passing the legislation, but faced questions over why the federal government was not ready to table this bill on Wednesday.
"It's a process," said Goodale. "As a general principle, removing the stigma of a criminal record for people who have served their sentence and then have shown themselves to be law-abiding citizens enhances public safety for all Canadians."
He said more details and information will be available in the weeks ahead.
Asked about pardons on his way into a caucus meeting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the evidence shows that minority and racialized groups are disproportionally represented among the people who face these possession charges. He said the pardons will make a "real difference," and dismissed not moving on them sooner, saying it would have been “irresponsible” to talk about it before cannabis was legal.
Records not fully erased
The federal government is now facing criticism from some for not opting for record expungements.
An expungement would destroy or remove any record of a conviction, while a pardon is a forgiveness for a past conviction that seals the record but does not erase it, and can still pose issues at the border. Though, pardons are viewed as beneficial for people to participate in society, from volunteering, to finding work.
NDP MP Murray Rankin tabled a private member’s bill earlier this month that pushed for the expungement of records of anyone who carries a criminal record for past minor, non-violent pot possession conviction, which is different than the pardon approach the government is taking.
By his estimate, there are hundreds of thousands of Canadians who carry personal possession charges for marijuana.
Asked why the government is taking the pardons route, Goodale said expungements should be reserved for instances of "profound historical injustice that needed to be corrected," and he doesn't consider past pot charges to fit this description.
Speaking to the government’s choice in pardons over expungements, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh expressed considerable disappointment and disagreement with the government’s view. He said his caucus will continue to push for the full deletion of these criminal records.
"It is absolutely a historical injustice," Singh said. "For the government to say this is not a historic injustice is absolutely wrong."
Speaking about the forthcoming pardons, Conservative MP Tony Clement said he needs to see what exactly the government will propose in its bill. He is supportive of having a process for people to apply for pardons, he said, but would oppose any kind of blanket measure.