Trudeau government should create process to pardon, expunge criminal records of Canadians with cannabis offences


PUBLISHED :Monday, Jan. 22, 2018 12:00 AM

When the Liberals promised Canadians cannabis legalization in the last election, Canadians understood legalization to mean the end of criminalization, the end of stigmatization, and the end of the prohibitionist approach to cannabis.

It is why the NDP, along with millions of other Canadians, were somewhat surprised to read the fine print of Bill C-45 only to discover that it is not legalization, but simply making cannabis less illegal.

From the start, the Liberals have refused to decriminalize simple possession of cannabis, despite calls from stakeholders and the NDP. In the meantime, thousands of Canadians are continuing to get arrested, charged and convicted for something that will soon be legal, even as our justice system remains severely under-resourced.

For far too long, we have wasted billions of dollars in resources in the criminal justice system by criminalizing otherwise law-abiding citizens at an alarming rate for simply processing and consuming cannabis. In fact, we still are.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2016, under the Liberal government after it promised Canadians legalization, there were 55,000 offences related to cannabis reported to police, and police charged 17,733 people with pot possession. Given that cannabis possession will soon be made legal in Canada, the NDP has been clear from the outset that we should immediately decriminalize the possession of recreational cannabis for personal use pending full legalization.

Now, petty possession is a crime that the prime minister himself has admitted to committing while serving as an elected official. This admission of past cannabis use belies his repeated assertion that “Until we’ve changed the law, the current laws exist and apply.” I guess that means that they apply to other people and not to him.

It is a shame and hypocrisy of the highest order that the current government continues to prosecute and convict Canadians for simple cannabis possession, which is something the government admits, should be legal. The government knows full well that current cannabis laws are not applied consistently across this country. Indeed, their discriminatory impact has been well documented by Canadian researchers, like Simon Fraser University’s Dr. Neil Boyd.

Furthermore, given the extensive body of research on the negative impacts of carrying a criminal record, it is clear that pursuing thousands of convictions for actions that we no longer view as criminal will needlessly harm vulnerable Canadians, particularly young people, racialized communities, Indigenous people, and other marginalized groups, mainly the poor.

Parliament is well aware of the devastating consequences of carrying criminal convictions, especially for young people, Indigenous and marginalized Canadians. It is illogical and unjust to continue this policy on the eve of legalization.

After the NDP and stakeholders revealed gaping holes in the Liberal government’s cannabis legislation, the NDP proposed amendments to C-45 that would provide an expedited pardon process for Canadians carrying convictions for cannabis offences that no longer exist, but they were rejected.

Millions of Canadians use cannabis. They have used it in the past, they will use it today, and they will continue to use it in the years to come. They are not criminals. They are our parents, teachers, friends, colleagues, loved ones, and citizens of this great country who voted for genuine cannabis legalization in the last election.

The NDP will continue to call on the Trudeau government to create a process to pardon and expunge the criminal records of Canadians with cannabis offences. We will also continue to work positively and constructively to develop the smartest, safest, and most effective cannabis legislation and regulations in the world, because it is time we delivered.

NDP MP Don Davies is his party’s health critic and MP for Vancouver Kingsway, B.C.

The Hill Times 

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