“It’s time to fix these unjust criminal records,” Cannings writes.

Possession pardons should be next step in cannabis legalization

Opinion: From the Hill by Richard Cannings MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay

Cannabis was legalized in Canada this October, but unfortunately the federal government didn’t include one important piece in that legislation: expungement of the records of a half million Canadians with criminal records for simple possession of cannabis.

These people are saddled with a criminal record for doing something that we now consider completely legal. And a criminal record is a serious problem—you are barred from international travel, barred from many jobs, and even barred from many community volunteer positions such as coaching. In Toronto, 15% of people on social welfare cite “Need for a Record Suspension” as a key barrier to employment. Renting an apartment with a criminal record can be a problem.

My colleague Murray Rankin, MP for Victoria, has tabled a private members bill in the House of Commons that would expunge these records, and I spoke in favour of the bill last Friday. For their part, the government is suggesting that they may introduce legislation next year allowing those with possession records to apply for pardons, but expungement is much more appropriate and effective in this case than pardons.

First, pardons are time-consuming and expensive. Applicants must wait at least five years after the end of their sentence before applying. From there, they must pay $631 and fill out a lengthy form that requires them to submit information from police stations and local courts. After that it usually takes about two years to hear if you’re successful. The government has said that planned legislation may change these rules for cannabis possession records.

Secondly, pardons, or record suspensions as they are now called, don’t eliminate criminal records—they simply separate them into a different category. Border agents or police officers will likely be able to see that someone has had a criminal record for possession and a subsequent pardon. What is needed here, what would be a truly just solution, is to eliminate the record altogether—expungement.

Expungement is usually carried out for groups of people who have criminal records for acts now considered legal, especially groups that have faced historical injustices. This is certainly the case for cannabis convictions, which have been given disproportionately to marginalized Canadians, especially visible minorities.

If you’re an indigenous person in Regina, you’re nine times more likely to have a possession record than if you’re nonindigenous; in Vancouver you are seven times more likely. If you’re black in Halifax, you’re five times more likely to have a possession record than if you’re not black, in Toronto that figure is three times more likely. These figures have absolutely no relation to the rate of cannabis use in different groups, or in different parts of the country.

The government admits this. The Prime Minister publicly stated that “People from minority communities, marginalized communities, without economic resources, are not going to have that kind of option to go through and clear their name in the justice system. That’s one of the fundamental unfairnesses of this current system is that it affects different communities in a different way.” Bill Blair, the minister who shepherded the legalization legislation through the House, said in debate that “the failed system of criminal prohibition has resulted in the criminalization of hundreds of thousands of Canadians and contributed to an unjust disparity and impact on vulnerable communities.”

It’s time to fix these unjust criminal records. It’s been done in several US states—California, Vermont, Delaware and North Dakota—and it should be done in Canada. I sincerely hope the government supports this expungement bill that would clear the unjust criminal record for these Canadians so that they can get this millstone off their necks.

Richard Cannings is the MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay

Just Posted

Three running for South Okanagan-West Kootenay seat, so far

Conservative, New Democrat and Liberal candidates on the trail, no Green or independent yet

Provincial funding finds its way to B.C. SAR teams

Government of British Columbia makes $18.6 million announcement for BC SARA

Tax facts on disposing of property

Tax Tips & Pits with Ron Clarke, Trail Times contributor

Kimberley Dynamiters are Kootenay Conference Champs

It took triple overtime to put away the Beaver Valley Nitehawks

Vernon Vipers edge out Trail Smoke Eaters

Trail’s season came to an end as the Vernon Vipers won Game 7 5-2

The good, bad and the unknown of Apple’s new services

The announcements lacked some key details, such as pricing of the TV service

UPDATED: Three dead in Surrey crash: police

Single-vehicle crash occurred around 10:30 a.m., police remain on-scene

Eviction halted for B.C. woman deemed ‘too young’ for seniors’ home

Zoe Nagler, 46, had been given notice after living in the seniors complex in Comox for six years

Is it a homicide? B.C. woman dies in hospital, seven months after being shot

Stepfather think Chilliwack case should now be a homicide, but IHIT has not confirmed anything

Coroner’s inquest announced for Victoria teen’s overdose death

Elliot Eurchuk was 16 years old when he died of an opioid overdose at his Oak Bay home

Military officer accused of sexual misconduct, drunkenness in B.C., Alberta

Warrant Officer Jarvis Kevin Malone is charged under the National Defence Act

Stranger climbs onto B.C. family’s second-floor balcony, lights fire in barbecue

Incident in Abbotsford terrifies family with two-year-old boy

Harbour Air to convert to all-electric seaplanes

Seaplane company to modify fleet with a 750-horsepower electric motor

Sailings cancelled after BC Ferries boat hits Langdale terminal

The Queen of Surrey is stuck on the dock, causing delays to Horseshoe Bay trips

Most Read