Federal legislation for cannabis-possession pardon not enough, critics say

Prior to cannabis legalization, simple possession was punishable by a $1,000 fine, six months in jail

Long-awaited legislation that makes getting a pardon for simple possession of cannabis cheaper and quicker made it to the House of Commons Friday, but critics say it won’t be enough to right decades of problems caused by cannabis criminalization.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said his new bill would waive the $631 application fee and remove the usual five-year waiting period after a conviction before an application will be accepted.

A successful application seals a criminal record away, as long as the person convicted isn’t charged with any other criminal offences.

Goodale said that this new bill is “undertaking a fundamental transformation from a prohibition system that has had consequences in Canada for more than a century,” and will allow people who’ve been convicted of simple possession to “participate in a wholesome way in their communities.”

“That’s nice and generous but it doesn’t go far enough, as far as I’m concerned,” said Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a University of Toronto sociologist who specializes in crime, policing and race. “Pardons are not enough to try to repair the harms.”

Statistics linking criminal charges and race aren’t routinely gathered in Canada, but separate reports by the Toronto Star in 2017 and Vice News in 2018 found that in several cities where figures were available, black Canadians and Indigenous people were much more likely than white people to be charged with cannabis possession before it was legalized last year. Separate data on drug use indicates that rates of cannabis use differ little among those groups.

Owusu-Bempah said completely expunging cannabis-possession records, which means destroying them entirely, is the only way for the government to recognize the “profound historical injustices that have stemmed from the war on drugs and cannabis prohibition in particular, especially how those have affected both marginalized and racialized populations.”

READ MORE: Canadian trial to compare cannabis and fentanyl in relieving chronic pain

READ MORE: B.C. woman looks to reduce stigma surrounding weed-smoking moms

Owusu-Bempah said that struggles with finding housing and employment are among the problems those who have been convicted of drug possession grapple with.

It’s a view shared by Toronto lawyer Annamaria Enenajor, who has made expunging cannabis-possession records a cause.

“I think this government has an obligation to write the historical wrongs of decades of cannabis prohibition, particularly because the laws were unequally enforced and were primarily against vulnerable and marginalized communities including Indigenous communities and communities of colour,” said Enenajor.

Enenajor said that while a pardon, or record suspension, does remove the charge from the National Repository of Criminal Records, a pardoned offence can still be reinstated by the national parole board if the board deems an individual is “no longer of good conduct.”

She said a pardon regime doesn’t consider the “sheer amount of people that have been impacted by these offences” or the resources that have been used in prosecuting them over the years. She said the proposed system will continue to take up money and time as applications are processed one by one, something that could be avoided with an automatic mass expungement.

READ MORE: 5 tips for talking to your kids about cannabis

READ MORE: 10 things still illegal in the new age of recreational cannabis

Goodale said expunging criminal records is only an option when a law “violates human rights and should never had existed in the first place.” He offered the criminalization of homosexuality as an example.

“With respect to cannabis, the law itself was completely valid and constitutional but some people, especially vulnerable and marginalized communities, were impacted disproportionately and unfairly,” said Goodale.

Another reason the government offered for using pardons instead of mass expungements is that records of previous convictions will sometimes have been shared outside Canada, such as with U.S. border guards. A pardon can likewise be shared and will work to the former offender’s benefit; if a record is expunged in Canada, the other jurisdiction’s files won’t necessarily reflect that.

Officials said in a background briefing that they don’t know exactly how many people have been convicted of cannabis possession in Canada, but they expect the number of people who will benefit from the streamlined process could be “in the thousands.”

Until the Cannabis Act came into effect last October, simple possession of the drug was punishable by a fine up to $1,000 and six months in jail.

Danielle Edwards, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Rock slide forces rural Keremeos residents to leave their homes

Witness describes boulders bigger than her car

Okanagan-Shuswap weather: goodbye sun, hello rain

Environement Canada forcasts clouds and rain for the weekend and beyond

Budget fails to put people and planet first

By Wayne Stetski, M.P. The 2019 federal budget has been framed as… Continue reading

RCMP recover stolen snowmobiles from Revelstoke

The RCMP say they are continuing to investigate the incident

B.C. researcher says device mimics parent’s touch to help babies cope with pain

Calmer device is a rectangular platform that replaces a mattress inside an incubator

Sentencing judge in Broncos crash calls for carnage on highways to end

Judge Inez Cardinal sentenced Jaskirat Singh Sidhu to eight years

2 fires in Victoria caused by cigarettes prompts warning from deputy fire chief

Two separate fires caused by cigarette butts were avoidable

Kelowna youngsters grab tournament win in U.S.

The Kelowna Storm won the under-8 Shamrock Showdown Hockey Tournament in Spokane

Wildlife activists slam B.C. business, clubs for ‘wolf-whacking’ contests

Chilcotin Guns, Creston Valley Rod and Gun Club and West Kootenay Outdoorsmen Club under fire

UPDATE: Destructive blaze in West Kelowna

A unit of a condo complex is on fire in West Kelowna

‘Families torn apart:’ Truck driver in fatal Broncos crash gets 8-year sentence

Judge Inez Cardinal told court in Melfort, Sask., that Sidhu’s remorse and guilty plea were mitigating factors

Pet Planet picks up Okanagan’s cannabis for pets

True Leaf Medicine International expands retail distribution to 3,500 stores worldwide

AquaVan comes to Okanagan Science Centre

200-litre mobile touch tank allows you to get up-close with marine invertebrates

Most Read