The Liberal government will waive the fee and waiting period for Canadians seeking a pardon for a past conviction for simple pot possession.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced today that the government intends to table legislation to expedite the pardon process for those with a criminal record for pot.
The fee for normal record suspensions is $631. The waiting period to apply is usually five years for a summary offence or 10 years for an indictable offence.
Goodale said it will “shed the burden and stigma” and break down barriers to jobs, education, housing or volunteer work.
But he could not give a timeframe of when someone could apply and obtain a pardon, noting that the “critical point” is getting the legislation tabled and passed in Parliament.
He said legalization represents a “fundamental transformation” of a legal regime that’s been in place for over a century.
“That is not a singular event. That is a process,” he said.
NDP wants records expunged
A record suspension does not erase the fact that you were convicted of a crime, but keeps the record separate and apart from other criminal records.
The NDP is calling for the expungement of criminal records, which would erase the criminal conviction entirely.
I’m disappointed the Min of Public Safety ruled out expungement of cannabis convictions because he claims that’s reserved for “historical injustice.” The disproportionate impacts felt by Indigenous People & racialized communities demonstrates a deep historical injustice.
NDP Justice critic Murray Rankin called the pardon plan a “half-baked measure” that won’t remove the existing barriers the criminal record presents for travel, housing or volunteering. People who are asked on a form if they have a criminal conviction will still be required to answer “yes.”
“If you call that an expungement, then you will completely solve the problem that I think will, continue to exist,” he said.
Goodale said the government did not adopt that approach, because it is for cases where there has been a “profound historical injustice.”
Earlier this year, the government tabled the Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act, Bill C-66, as part of an apology to LGBT Canadians. It gives the Parole Board of Canada jurisdiction to order the expungement of convictions for past Criminal Code offences that include gross indecency, buggery and anal intercourse.
If the conviction is expunged, the RCMP is to notify municipal, provincial and judicial authorities to order that all records be destroyed.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said easing the pardon process will help those “unfairly” harmed by the past prohibition.
Pardon no free ticket to U.S.
“We know that, because there is a disproportionate representation of young people, from minorities and racialized communities, who are saddled with criminal convictions for simple possession as a significant further challenge to success in the job market, this is going to make a real difference to people who’ve been unfairly impacted by the previous regime.”
A pardon, however, will not necessarily mean a person can travel to the U.S. or anywhere else in the world.
Goodale’s office says entry and exit requirements are at the discretion of each country, and international jurisdictions are not bound by Canadian law. Other countries may be able to see that a pardon has been granted to a Canadian, but it does not guarantee entry to another country.
U.S. officials have already signalled that a pardon won’t mean entry to the country.
“Really, we don’t recognize the Canadian amnesty. If you’ve been the subject of a violation of U.S. laws, that will still make you inadmissible to our country,” Todd Owen, the assistant commissioner of field operations at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), said in a teleconference with reporters this week.
Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair said travellers should always be responsible and honest when seeking entry to the U.S. or any other country.
“If they feel uncomfortable and don’t wish to answer the questions, they have the ability not to incriminate themselves. They can always have the option of turning around and coming back into Canada,” he said.
Blair said the end to prohibition comes with a strict legal and regulatory regime that aims to keep cannabis away from minors and profits out of the hands of criminals.
“We begin the process today of replacing that illicit market,” he said, noting that marijuana generated an estimated $8 billion in profits for organized crime.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould called it a “historic” day and said Canada has adopted a leading, progressive policy shift.
“There’s no question the world is watching Canada,” she said.
Conservative Health critic Marilyn Gladu accused the government of failing to consider the consequences of legalization, including road safety.
“This is a process that has been carried out in a rush and for entirely political reasons,” she said.
“In order to meet a self-imposed deadline, Justin Trudeau has failed to address the very serious concerns raised by those who will have to manage the consequences of this decision.”