NDP MP makes last plea for feds to issue pot expungements, not pardons
A vendor displays marijuana for sale during the 4-20 annual marijuana celebration in Vancouver on April 20, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Published Thursday, December 6, 2018 7:02PM EST
OTTAWA -- With the federal government’s promised pot pardon bill yet to be tabled, NDP MP Murray Rankin is poised to make one final plea for the Liberals to back his bill for expungements.
Before last month’s cannabis legalization in Canada, Rankin tabled Bill C-415, a private members’ bill that if passed, would expunge the records of anyone who carries a criminal record for past minor, non-violent pot possession convictions. Essentially, if it’s now legal, and you were charged in the past, Rankin thinks your record should be wiped -- including from any federal database, such as the overseen by the RCMP.
He brought forward the bill at a time when the federal Liberals had said they wouldn’t be considering forgiving past cannabis convictions until after the drug was legalized.
Then, the day marijuana became legalized, the federal government announced it would be tabling a bill to issue pardons, and not expungements, to Canadians who have criminal records for past simple possession charges.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said that the legislation would be coming before the end of 2018, meaning it could be some time before those pardons are granted as the legislation moves its way through the legislative process.
This move was criticized by the NDP who argued it’s a half-measure.
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.
Now, with the federal bill yet to be tabled, Rankin’s bill is coming up for debate in the House of Commons on Friday afternoon. There, he’s likely to hear the fate of his proposal.
Rankin said he has had promises of support from members of all parties, but that he’s not sure if that’ll translate into support from the governing Liberals, or Opposition Conservatives.
A spokesperson for Goodale told CTVNews.ca that the government will announce its position during debate on the bill.
Undeterred by the promise of a federal plan, Rankin said peoples’ lives are on hold now, by continuing to hold these criminal records for acts that are now legal.
“Mine would solve the problem we’re both trying to solve. Their's may, but perhaps may not solve that problem. Why wouldn’t they go so far as to get it right, take no chances on getting it wrong,” Rankin said in a recent interview with CTVNews.ca,
By Rankin’s estimate, there are hundreds of thousands of Canadians who carry personal possession charges for marijuana.
Asked if it is still the government’s plan to table legislation before the New Year, a spokesperson for Goodale said in a statement to CTVNews.ca that “work on legislation is underway and we will provide an update in due course.”
Under the federal system, 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.
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.
When asked why the government is taking the pardons route, Goodale has previously said expungements should be reserved for instances of "profound historical injustice that needed to be corrected," and that he doesn't consider past pot charges to fit this description.
Rankin disagrees with this, calling it an arbitrary distinction, citing research has shown that the application of past marijuana laws disproportionately penalized people of colour.
The NDP MP and justice critic also raised concern with the fact that with pardons, past records can be retained by various agencies, leaving already disenfranchised people open to future discrimination, including from landlords and prospective employers, despite rules meant to prevent this.
Though, Goodale’s office said that pardons are a better option because you can retrieve records needed to apply for entry into the United States, and that pardoned criminal records can only be disclosed in exceptional circumstances.