Mr. Speaker, I have the pleasure to begin our debate on Bill , which will amend the Criminal Records Act so that individuals who have criminal records for the simple possession of cannabis can quickly clear their record and live their lives to the fullest.
This bill proposes the unprecedented and exceptional measure of eliminating the waiting period and the application fee for people seeking a pardon for cannabis possession. This means that instead of waiting five years and paying the Parole Board $631, applicants would not have to wait a single minute and would not owe the Parole Board a single cent.
Bill is the next logical step in a process that began during the last election campaign, when we committed to ending the prohibition of cannabis in Canada. The result of decades of prohibition was that Canadians were among the heaviest and youngest users of cannabis in the world. Under the former system, the illegal cannabis trade put $7 billion annually into the pockets of organized crime, and Canadian law enforcement agencies spent over $2 billion every year trying to enforce an ineffective and counterproductive legal regime.
Last October, we finally put an end to the old way of doing things, and cannabis is now legal and strictly regulated, as promised. However, one of the lingering consequences of the previous system is that it saddled many Canadians with criminal records, making it harder for them to get jobs, rent apartments, travel or volunteer in their communities. The people affected are disproportionately from minority communities.
To be sure, they broke the law. They committed what, at the time, was a criminal offence, and there were consequences for that. However, people who were convicted only of possession of cannabis for personal use, an activity that is now legal, should be able to shed their criminal records and the associated burdens and stigma as quickly and as easily as possible. That is exactly what Bill would allow. This proposed legislation would create a pardon process for people convicted of simple cannabis possession that would be streamlined and simplified in multiple important ways.
Currently, to apply for a pardon or record suspension, which has been the legal term used since 2012, a person who has completed a sentence has to wait several years before submitting an application. It can be five or even 10 years, depending on the circumstances. Under Bill , there would be no waiting period at all.
Currently, the Parole Board charges a $631 application fee, which is obviously a major barrier. That is especially true for low-income Canadians who need to clear their records so that they can get jobs and earn salaries. However, without those jobs and salaries, they cannot afford the fee. Bill would eliminate the application fee.
Ordinarily, in addition to requiring police and court records, the law puts the onus on the applicants to demonstrate that they have been of good conduct and that receiving a pardon would provide them with measurable benefits. These subjective factors are considered by government-appointed Parole Board members who make a judgment call about whether to grant the pardon. Under Bill , for people whose only offence was simple possession of cannabis, the good conduct and measurable benefits factors would be eliminated. Applications would be quickly processed by public servants at the Parole Board, because there would be no judgment call to make. If the police and court records showed that a person's only conviction was for possession of cannabis for personal use, that person would get a pardon.
In short, there would be no application fee, no waiting period and no need to convince the Parole Board to grant a pardon based on subjective criteria. This would dramatically simplify and accelerate the process.
However, these are just some of the measures in the bill. There are additional practical steps the Parole Board is taking to make it even quicker and easier for people to apply. For instance, it is redesigning the application form to make it simpler to understand and faster to complete. It is devoting resources to work with people to ensure that applications are properly submitted. It is updating and clarifying the information on its website and preparing a step-by-step application guide, a 1-800 number and a dedicated email address specifically to help people with cannabis possession convictions make use of this new expedited process. Plus, it is developing an outreach strategy that will involve community partners, civil society organizations and social media to make people aware of the new process and how to access it.
It should not be harder for people to work, go to school, travel, find housing or volunteer because they once committed an act that is no longer illegal.
All the legislative and operational amendments that I just mentioned will ensure that individuals who have a criminal record for nothing more than simple cannabis possession will be able to move forward in life as fully reintegrated members of society.
The process of developing our approach for dealing with criminal records for cannabis possession involved a great deal of discussion, both internally and with stakeholders, such as the Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty. We ultimately settled on the streamlined pardons process I have described, but we carefully examined other possibilities, such as amnesty and expungement, and I will address both approaches to explain why we did not choose them.
The amnesty approach is being used in California, where the state is proactively and automatically clearing people's records without requiring applications. I completely understand the appeal of that approach, but in Canada at the moment, it is, unfortunately, a practical impossibility.
Canadian law has never had an offence known as “cannabis possession”. The record of a person convicted of possessing cannabis might say something like “possession of a controlled substance in Schedule II”, without referring to one of the several substances in that schedule.
Therefore, to find everyone who was ever convicted of cannabis possession, we would first have to find everyone who was ever convicted of possession of a controlled substance in the same category as cannabis, and then, in each case, go through the court documents to find out what the substance actually was. That would be challenging enough if all those records were held in one central repository, but that is not at all the case. We have a patchwork of different law enforcement authorities at various levels of government, each with its own records and record-keeping systems.
Some of these systems are sophisticated and computerized, but others are literally papers in locked boxes in a courthouse basement. In other words, proactively clearing people's records for cannabis possession would require a massive amount of resources at all levels of government, and it would take a very long time. People would still be waiting to have their records cleared years from now. It is much simpler to receive applications in which people provide the specifics of their particular cases. That would allow the Parole Board to process the files much faster and would allow applicants to have their records cleared much sooner, and that is the point.
There have also been calls for expungement instead of pardons. The difference is that a pardon sequesters a person's record so that it does not show up in a criminal records check, whereas expungement eliminates any mention of the offence from all records, as though it never happened in the first place.
Expungement actually did not exist in Canada until last year, when we used it for the very first, and thus far only, time to deal with historic convictions for consensual sexual activity between same sex partners. The idea was that the laws in those cases were unconstitutional. They should never have existed, and they were, by their very nature, fundamentally and inherently unjust.
The prohibition of cannabis was bad public policy, but it did not violate the charter. Still, there is no question that in its application, it had a disproportionate impact on certain groups of Canadians, especially members of black and indigenous communities. It is in recognition of that fact that we are proposing the exceptional and unprecedented measures contained in this bill.
Practically, for the applicant, the effect of a pardon or an expungement would be virtually the same. With either approach, a prospective landlord or employer would not be able to find out about a past conviction. In fact, the Canadian Human Rights Act expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of a pardoned criminal record. The goal of letting a person move on with his or her life without the burden of a criminal record would be achieved in both cases.
The only realistic scenario in which a pardoned record for cannabis possession could be reinstated would be if a person committed a new offence, and at that point, because of the new offence he or she committed, the person would have a criminal record anyway. The impact of reinstating the cannabis conviction would be pretty minimal.
When it comes to international travel, in particular to the United States, an expungement could cause additional complications that a pardon would not. That is because the U.S. might have a previously existing record of a person's conviction, likely from when that person crossed the border or tried to cross it in the past. Even if a criminal record check came up empty today, which would happen with either a pardon or an expungement, the American border officer would have a note in the file from the last time. The officer could insist that a person get a waiver or provide more information about the conviction. If the record was pardoned, the person could contact the Parole Board and get the information needed to satisfy the U.S. border officer. However, if the record was expunged, there would be no documentation for the Parole Board to provide, and one might simply be denied entry.
The bottom line is that the approach we are proposing in Bill is a practical and efficient way of clearing the criminal records of those who were charged with simple possession of cannabis.
We would waive the fee, which is $631, and we would waive the waiting period, which is usually five years. We would eliminate the subjective factors, such as whether the applicant has been of good conduct and whether the pardon would provide a measurable benefit. We would make the application process simpler and more user-friendly.
I am proud that during the last election campaign, whether others were talking about maintaining the status quo or proposing timid half-measures, such as decriminalization, our party had the courage to recognize that bold action was needed. We made a commitment to legalize and regulate cannabis, the better to keep cannabis out of the hands of Canadian youth and the profits out of the hands of criminals. We upheld that commitment, and now we have put forward a bill that would help people criminalized by the previous system turn the page so that they would no longer bear the stigma and the burden of a criminal record.
I invite all hon. members to join me in supporting this important legislation.
Mr. Speaker, I am here today to talk about Bill .
The first thing I want to tell the government is that we think this is pretty reasonable, but there are “buts”. We think most Canadians are okay with erasing records for simple possession of cannabis. We agree on that, especially when it comes to young people. A lot of young people get caught when they are just trying marijuana. They might be in a park, the police happen to be there, and they end up with a record for something that is really just a youthful indiscretion.
Of course, there are also adults who have tried marijuana or used it while it was illegal. After he was elected, our own admitted to smoking cannabis while it was still illegal. As we see it, that is not very good, considering what one represents once one is elected and becomes a federal MP and then the Prime Minister. Still, he admitted to smoking while it was illegal. That is not a good example to set for Canadians.
However, we understand that for younger people, minors or youth, this can fall under the category of youthful mistakes. What we are accepting with Bill C-93 is the clearing of the criminal records of people who were convicted of simple possession once in their lives. We are not talking about people who were caught many times, like 200 or 300 times, or people who have a criminal history or other offences on their criminal records. In the case of a one-time conviction for simple possession, we can accept that it was a mistake and grant a pardon.
Although we are prepared to support the idea of Bill C-93 at second reading, we would need to study the bill in detail in committee, because much of it is unclear. There is no preamble and no clear explanation of the goals of the bill or who could benefit from it and why. That is why the committee study will be important. It will be vital to dig into the details and get down to the nitty-gritty to figure out what is not being said. It is often the unspoken elements that require clarification.
Let us talk about the costs involved, for example. It is estimated that about 500,000 Canadians have criminal records for simple possession. The cost of applying for a pardon is a little over $600. If you multiply those numbers, it comes to $315 million, so that is how much would normally be paid by those taxpayers who have a criminal record. The government wants to make it free. This means that Government of Canada resources will be used to process the files of these individuals, who would normally have to pay for it themselves. If they were paying, that would cover the cost of processing these records, which amounts to roughly $315 million. That is not insignificant. We in the Conservative Party are wondering why other taxpayers should have to pay indirectly for these individuals to apply for a pardon.
It is typical of the Liberal government to believe that money is no object. The Liberals never consider taxpayers, who pay a lot of money in taxes. They never say “no”, and they throw money around left, right and centre. We have been watching them do this for the past three and a half years. This comes as no surprise. To us Conservatives, however, these are important considerations.
I want to come back to Bill , which is one of the things that led to Bill C-93 currently before the House. Bill C-45 is the notorious marijuana legalization bill, which was introduced in a hurry to fulfill an election promise. However, it raised a great many questions that have never been answered. The government says it consulted experts and received information. We know that is completely false—or perhaps its did not really listen to the feedback given in those consultations. Police forces had all kinds of concerns, as did the medical community. Issues were raised but were never taken into consideration. Landlords also had questions about cultivation and use inside apartment buildings. Those issues were never resolved, and this creates uncertainty.
Given the way Bill was passed and expedited in order to fulfill the famous election promise and pander to young voters who voted Liberal because of it, we think that there will always be questions, especially since the government did not want to listen to law enforcement and doctors, among others. Even if I started out by saying that we are prepared to support Bill , we must still thoroughly examine this bill, because we do not want the Liberals to pull a fast one, as the expression goes.
First of all, the legalization of marijuana was supposed to reduce the proceeds of organized crime. The parliamentary secretary spoke about it in his speech. Sales of marijuana alone by organized crime are estimated at $7 billion. The Liberals said they were legalizing marijuana to take this money out of the pockets of organized crime and put it in the government's coffers. However, this was a false argument and a public relations exercise. We know that organized crime continues to sell marijuana. It even copied the labelling of products sold in legal stores in developing its packaging. This law did not stop organized crime from continuing to do business.
Furthermore, since it is now legal, no one is afraid of getting arrested, which is kind of odd. People are still using illegal drugs and organized crime continues to profit. The concerns we raised while we were debating Bill C-45 have now proven to be valid.
Again, we do support the spirit of the bill, but we want to study the bill in committee to be sure that the final version is very clear. This is my first term as a member of Parliament, but I have been learning quickly. I learned rather quickly that the is not to be trusted. Recent events are proof of that. The Prime Minister raised a lot of hopes, but the promises turned out to be snake oil. He made promises to everyone, but at the end of the day, we now know they meant nothing. He claimed to be a feminist. He said that the status of women was important and that he would make it a focus of debate as much as possible. Everyone knows what he did with the three female MPs who now sit as independents.
The Prime Minister also mocked Stephen Harper, saying he did not take the needs of indigenous people into consideration. He said that he cared about indigenous people and he was going to fix the situation. Last week, however, we saw young indigenous women turn their backs on our Prime Minister here in the House. Indigenous communities in Canada heard all the lofty promises that were made, but the Prime Minister kept breaking those promises.
Getting back to the legalization of marijuana, I would remind the House that the Prime Minister was in such a hurry to fulfill his election promise that he did not listen to the municipalities, law enforcement, employers and scientists. The Conservatives are often accused of not believing in science, but the first to ignore scientists were this Liberal Prime Minister and his team. They keep shaking their heads, but they ignored scientists from across Canada regarding the problems associated with marijuana.
The government also promised to create a legal framework for derivative products and set standards for the sale of edibles and concentrates such as hashish within 12 months of legalizing marijuana. That was six months ago, and we still have not seen a plan to make that happen. This is yet another unfulfilled promise, and seeing as this session is about to end, it will probably be another broken promise.
It is easy to see why the majority of Canadians feel betrayed by this Liberal government. Much like Obama, the Prime Minister made a lot of noise but over-promised and under-delivered. All too often, we have heard the Liberals downplay the dangers of marijuana, and now that they have legalized it, future generations will think cannabis consumption is no big deal. Even my own children are now saying that it is legal and smoking it just to try it out is fine. That is not how it works though. It may be legal, but it is still very dangerous. Young people need to understand that it is hazardous to their health, not a harmless consumer product.
Experts say it is especially dangerous for young people, and everyone agrees.
In a Globe and Mail article published in April 2017, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Psychiatric Association, the Canadian Paediatric Society and other organizations representing front-line health care providers express their concerns about the ill effects of cannabis, especially for chronic smokers under the age of 25.
In this article, the experts say to please keep the public health focus front of mind as this legislation is unrolled. That is a direct quote from Dr. Gail Beck, the clinical director of youth psychiatry at the Royal Ottawa Hospital. She also says that lots of people think this is harmless.
I would like to read out this article to show the House that cannabis consumption really does have consequences. These are the words of experts, not politicians. The experts quoted in this article say that the medical profession in this country has long had misgivings about medicinal marijuana, namely that there is not enough solid evidence of pot's efficacy in treating chronic pain and other ailments to warrant a doctor's endorsement. However, with the advent of legal recreational marijuana, doctors have a different set of worries.
A major concern is the potential for marijuana addiction, in particular among teens and young adults. Christina Grant, a professor of pediatrics at McMaster University in Hamilton, says that one in seven adolescents who start using cannabis will develop a cannabis use disorder, which is significant.
Dr. Grant, a principal author at the Canadian Pediatric Society, released a statement last fall, saying that cannabis use crosses over into disorder territory when it begins to cause dysfunction in users' day-to-day lives, derailing their commitment to school or work and sowing conflict in their families.
Cannabis has also been associated with certain mental illnesses. We still do not know how the medication, depression and anxiety all connect. Science has not yet established a cause and effect relationship between the two. In other words, we cannot be certain whether people smoke cannabis because they are depressed and anxious or if they are depressed and anxious because they smoke cannabis.
Dr. Beck says there is stronger evidence that heavy use of cannabis can lead to psychosis, especially among people who have a family history of mental illness. However, the vast majority of the research involved people who use cannabis daily. The scientific literature is virtually silent on the mental health effects of occasional use.
Dr. Grant noted that we do not know the lower limit that is safe and there is no evidence to suggest that nothing will happen if a person uses cannabis once or twice.
There is good evidence that teens who smoke pot frequently suffer long-lasting damage to their still immature brains, including problems with memory, attention and executive functioning. Dr. Grant added that, for teenagers who use cannabis regularly, there are actually structural changes that are visible on MRI. She adds that certain areas of the brain are visibly smaller, there is thinning of a part of the brain called the cortex, which is very important in terms of thinking and planning and organizing.
The adult brain appears capable of recovering from chronic pot use in a few weeks. According to Dr. Beck, that is not what happens in young people. Citing concerns about the adolescent brain, the Canadian Medical Association, which represents the country's physicians, last year urged the federal government to ban the sale of marijuana to people under the age of 21 and to restrict the amount and potency of the drug available to those younger than 25.
Most of the health concerns associated with cannabis apply to heavy users. However, occasional tokers can wreak havoc if they get behind the wheel while high. For an occasional user to consume some pot and then get behind the wheel is a recipe for disaster.
According to Amy Porath, director of research and policy for the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, cannabis impairs our ability to safely drive a vehicle. It impairs our reaction time, our ability to multitask and to pay attention. Police across the country are currently piloting a roadside saliva test to see if it adequately detects cannabis-impaired drivers.
Whether it is tobacco or cannabis, Dr. Porath said, there are concerns with smoking anything. Smoking can cause coughing, wheezing, sore throat and tightness in the chest. It can also aggravate asthma.
That article was published before marijuana was legalized. Major concerns were raised in this 2017 Globe and Mail article, which looks at the problems with marijuana.
I am bringing it up again and members may be wondering why I am talking about this. It all comes back to the basic concept, which is the way marijuana was legalized. The government completely ignored experts, scientists and police officers. It completely ignored the proposals that the opposition made in committee. It also completely ignored the work of the Senate. Senators proposed a lot of amendments but the Liberals rejected all of them, just like they rejected the proposals of the official opposition.
That is why we are prepared to say that Bill might make sense. Given the way the government works, we would never go so far as to say that the bill is extraordinary and that we will vote in favour of it without any debate. That would be impossible because there are always grey areas, things that are unclear.
The Liberals know what they want. They have a course of action and a way of doing things. As for us, our duty is to examine the issues, ask the right questions and propose any necessary amendments.
We are therefore prepared to support Bill C-93 at second reading. However, it needs to be reworked in committee, and I hope that the government will listen to and understand the amendments that will be proposed. I am sure that the NDP will also propose amendments.
Unfortunately, we do not have enough information to immediately pass the bill in its current form. We need to go a little further, to dig a little deeper. After the committee does its work and the Liberal government makes some decisions, we will decide how to move forward. At this point, we have some doubts. We will see what happens, and then we will respond accordingly.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to explain at the outset that the NDP will oppose this legislation. Over the next 20 minutes that I have available, I hope to explain why record suspension is not the way to go, and record expungement, which I will describe, is the way to go. Record expungement for simple possession is the basis of my private member's bill, Bill , which will be up for second reading debate in the chamber on Thursday.
I have risen on previous occasions in this place to call Bill a half-baked measure, and I am still of that opinion. Let me explain: It is too little and it is too late.
It is too little, because record suspension is just that, putting a criminal record aside where it could potentially be used again against the individual. It ignores the historical injustice, the disproportionate impact of cannabis possession offences on marginalized Canadians, on blacks and particularly on indigenous people.
It is too late, because it is almost six months since October when we had the historic legalization of possession of cannabis. Here we are, almost at the end of this parliamentary session, starting second reading debate on the bill. It has to go before committee. It has to go to the Senate. It has to go before Senate committees. I am anxious that this will not be law in Canada, as it will die on the Order Paper until the next Parliament addresses that.
It is especially disappointing because the Liberals have had years to do this. Their excuse was to wait until possession was legal on October 17, 2018. Now we are almost six months later, in the dying days of this Parliament, and suddenly talking about it.
I hope that cynicism is not warranted. I hope there is goodwill on the part of the government to fix the bill and move it forward expeditiously. However, I have my doubts.
My private member's bill, which is the counter to this piece of legislation, would require an application process for expungement. In an ideal world, my bill would have had automatic expungement, which is the case in Delaware and California, where officials sweep the records, find out whether a person has a record, for simple possession in effect, and if so, the record is deemed never to have existed. It is gone. It is zapped from the system.
This legislation would require an application. My bill does too, but that is because, as the House well knows, it is a private member's bill, and due to a technicality called the royal recommendation, I could not ask the government to expend money. I was not able to do what has been done south of the border with automatic expungement. That would apply universally and automatically and benefit, disproportionately, indigenous and racialized Canadians.
Let us just stand back from this. We have an activity which is perfectly legal now, but for which hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps that high, have a record for past consumption of cannabis, possession of cannabis, when it was illegal, and now they cannot get on with their lives.
Why does that matter? It matters because blacks cannot rent apartments because they have a criminal record and are on the bottom of the list in a tight housing market. As I will explain later, there are way more people in Halifax who were charged with a cannabis offence and have a record for cannabis than the non-black population.
Believe it or not, it is most glaring in Regina, Saskatchewan. This is government data; this is not me. This is from records disclosed under access to information. An indigenous person in Regina is nine times more likely to have a record for cannabis possession than a non-indigenous person. A black individual is five times more likely in Halifax and three times more likely in Toronto to have the same. An indigenous person in Vancouver is seven times more likely to have a cannabis record. This matters. We would call this law, adverse effects discrimination. We would call this constructive discrimination.
That is why it is so galling that the government wants to bring in a half-baked measure in Bill , rather than doing what is done in California. In San Francisco, there is an automatic intelligence system that simply sweeps the records to make them disappear for those who have a possession of cannabis offence on their record.
Let us contrast this with what the government wants to do today. To its credit, it wants to bring in a bill that says people no longer have to pay $631 for having a criminal record suspended, which is what Mr. Harper introduced, and they no longer have to wait for five years. I congratulate the government for that minor step in the right direction.
In the U.S., a person's record is automatically expunged in the states I have mentioned. These records are deemed not to exist. This matters because it allows people who are asked by a landlord whether they have a criminal record for anything to tell that landlord they do not. When asked by an employer if they have a criminal record, people who have only a cannabis possession charge from several years ago in their background can say they do not, because under expungement, it is deemed not to exist.
The government tells us not to worry and that we do not understand, because there is a human rights statute federally and in all the provinces that says people cannot face discrimination on the grounds that they have a criminal record for which a pardon has been granted. Tell that to an inner city landlord in downtown Halifax or to an inner city employer or small business operator in downtown Vancouver.
It is ludicrous. Why would the government not do the right thing, getting this all done at the same time and done properly, rather than bringing in this half-baked measure? It is too little, too late, which I am sad to say is my theme.
I am not the only one with this opinion. I am pleased to say that the Liberal member of Parliament for acknowledges the limitations of the bill. He said:
Only full amnesty recognizes the disproportionate impact of cannabis prohibition on people of colour and the fact that cannabis should never have been criminalized in the first place.
Our government’s solution is better than nothing, but it’s not enough to be better than nothing when we have an opportunity to make historic injustices right.
I am quoting a Liberal member, not someone who has an axe to grind, if you will, on this issue. This is a Liberal who realizes we can do so much better.
One of the arguments the Liberals have used to explain why we cannot have expungement is that many people would be affected and it would cost so much money and take so much time. However, that is not true anymore, because we have new data suggesting that only some 10,000 people would be positively affected by the bill. That is not a very large number. Why can we not expunge their records rather than simply giving them this record suspension, after which records move from one filing cabinet to another and can come back and bite people later in a subsequent event if the state deems that they have committed another crime?
What about crimes such as failure to appear? These are called administration of justice offences. They are not like the actual offence of cannabis possession. They occur when people do not pay a fine or do not show up in court. In these situations the criminal justice system is continually on a person's back, even though the root of it all was a cannabis possession charge.
I have been advised that indigenous women are sometimes affected down the road in this way when they have custody issues with their children. This occurs not because of the cannabis offence but because of the other matters on their record that have resulted from that. It is ludicrous.
The government says our most important relationship is with indigenous people. Here it could make a tiny but critically important change in the lives of so many. Why would it let this opportunity pass to expunge the records of people so they could say they have no criminal record, allowing them to get their foot on the social ladder in order to get employment, housing and the like? I do not understand the government's reluctance in this context.
Professor Kent Roach is one of Canada's leading criminal law specialists. Recently, in the Criminal Law Quarterly, he wrote, “The government's approach to cannabis convictions in the wake of legalization is even more problematic than the expungement act,” which is another bill I will come to.
He continued, “It has announced plans to allow the National Parole Board to grant pardons under the Criminal Records Act. This again requires case-by-case applications. This places challenges on the most disadvantaged people who have been convicted of cannabis possession.”
He goes on, “By not relying on expungement, the government's approach leaves applicants vulnerable to records of convictions and arrest being retained by the RCMP and other federal departments and to questions from prospective employers and landlords about whether they ever had a criminal conviction. It falls behind states such as California and Delaware in terms of reform.”
He then goes on and says about my bill that it “...takes a better approach by proposing to expunge cannabis convictions including the destruction of records of convictions.”
I am not here to score political points. I am not even running again in the next election. I am fully convinced that automatic expungement is the way to go. It is what people deserve. I implore the government to amend this bill and do the right thing by so many people who are affected, whose lives are on hold until we get this right.
Record suspension simply removes criminal records from the main database, CPIC, the Canadian Police Information Centre, and puts the data somewhere else, where it can be used prejudicially later and potentially shared with other departments, thereby having a negative effect.
Expungement means those records disappear for all purposes and for all time. A record suspension or pardon indicates the government is forgiving or excusing individuals for criminal behaviour, and that is all; expungement acknowledges it was wrong to criminalize it in the first place.
At this time, let me give the House the other government excuse for not doing the right thing.
It brought in, to its credit, Bill which was called the Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act. That bill dealt with same-sex sexual activity, which is no longer criminalized but was in the past. The government said it was going to deem those offences to no longer be on a person's record—gone.
I have two things to say about that.
Number one is that since October, from the last statistics, do members know how many people have even bothered to apply, of the 9,000 eligible? It was seven. That hardly gives confidence that this application process is going to make a difference.
Number two is that the government says, “Oh, member for Victoria, do you know what we will do? We will say that this is to be reserved for things that are constitutionally over the line, such as same-sex sexual activity.”
There is no principled reason for that smokescreen. I have talked to criminal law specialists and constitutional specialists across the country who say that this argument is not valid. Second, even if it were valid, which it is not, what about the constructive discrimination I just talked about, the adverse effects discrimination, whereby the policy and application affect blacks and indigenous people dramatically more than others? What about that?
Not doing the right thing for cannabis expungement as for same-sex sexual activity, which the government is prepared to expunge, makes no sense at all. It is another Liberal smokescreen.
I am not here to score political points; I am just trying to persuade the Liberals to do the right thing. Why would they not do it? That is what is so complicated for me to understand.
The NDP has been calling for this measure for years. I will not go through the whole background of it, but there are deficiencies in addition in the bill that is before us today. The Parole Board does not have the resources to do the job, so there are going to be even further backlogs for other applications from people seeking pardons. There is a whole industry, sadly, out there to help people get rid of their criminal records. If members go on the Internet, they will see everybody who wants to help if they give them a few hundred bucks.
The forms are complicated. Members might not think they are, but for a poor person with little education who is living in the inner city, this measure would impose another burden, and I do not understand why, when our friends south of the border figured it out much more readily.
There are also eligibility gaps in Bill . Only those people convicted of simple possession are eligible, meaning anyone with prior record suspensions of crimes related to the simple possession charges will not be able to use this process. I gave the example of failure to appear or not paying the fine or the like. If there is another offence on the record, then they are facing an inability to apply.
Someone pointed out that if a person has a summary conviction offence and then four years down has another cannabis offence, there may be a total wait of nine years to apply under this bill. I do not believe that was intended, but it is a function of the drafting of the bill, according to experts I have consulted. That is problematic.
The Liberals have had six months since they brought in legalization to do this. This bill is maybe four and a half or five pages in English, so how on earth did it take that long? The elephant laboured and brought forth a mouse.
Bill , which was 302 pages, was before the justice committee, and it rammed that one through. This bill is five pages in English and maybe nine pages in total with English and French. It took the Liberals that long to produce this tiny bill, this weak bill. Presumably they can just check it off on the list that another promise was kept, except if the bill dies on the Order Paper, as most people are anticipating.
This is a real problem. This is an opportunity for the government. My hope is that if the private member's bill that I have before Parliament for debate on Thursday goes to the public safety committee at the same time as this bill, perhaps there will be a way in which some of the provisions that I have suggested for expungement could be brought into the bill that is before us and we could get it right for the victims as they are.
It is not just me saying this. The has been quoted as follows: “...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....” He seems to get it.
The statistics that the government has produced under access to information confirm what I am saying. I am not making up those shocking statistics about overrepresentation of blacks and, particularly, indigenous people. The gets the consequences, so why would the Liberals not do it right? I do not understand.
Professor Doob, the famous criminology professor at the University of Toronto, stated:
There is no justification for forcing those who were convicted to live with a criminal record for behaviour that will soon not be criminal. A procedure for dealing with the problem has been devised by the current government. They should ensure that relevant drug records are expunged for the thousands of Canadians who have them.
Senator Pate, who has been very powerful on this issue in the other place, has made similar arguments, and I hope that those points are taken into account by the Liberals opposite.
I have been working with a very talented lawyer in Toronto, Annamaria Enenajor, who is the director of Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty. She is a prominent lawyer in Toronto and clerked for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. She is volunteering for this important cause and she states:
...the government...leaves the impression that restrictions exist on the government's ability to issue expungements for the offense of simple cannabis possession that are beyond its control. This is false. There is nothing in Canadian law that prohibits our government from issuing expungements for offenses that, in their application, unjustly targeted racialized and indigenous communities. It simply chooses not to. This is a policy decision.
That is the nub of the argument. Let us do it right.
There may be some good arguments in theory. I talked about the theoretical ability to apply the human rights legislation when people have been given pardons and so on, but it does not work in the real world. We have an absolute dearth of money for legal aid, and legal aid rarely covers human rights complaints if one has been discriminated against because of one's record. Theoretically, I guess, the Liberals could hang their hat on that, but they sure have not visited many inner cities if they think that is a viable argument in practice. Many small businesses and landlords draft their own applications and may not be aware of human rights legislation.
We have a historic opportunity in the dying days of this Parliament to do it right. Let us expunge criminal records for small quantity cannabis possession and help those thousands of Canadians who need a head start and a chance to get their foot on the rung in the social ladder. Let us do the right thing for those people as soon as we can.
Mr. Speaker, it gives me pleasure to rise today to speak to the Liberals' latest pot plan, Bill , an act to give pardons to people who were charged with possession of an illegal substance in years past.
I would like to salute the NDP members for their ability to bring pressure to bear on the Liberals and force them to address this issue. The government did not respond until after the NDP brought this forward in the House, calling for action. They need to be recognized for forcing the government into acting.
The Liberal government of course has said that it has always had a plan. However, it sure seems to have been rushed for something that was a long time in the planning.
In the public safety committee, we have the Liberal government's plans that are poorly developed, they lack consultations and they often miss the point or have negative consequences and unintended impacts on the Canadian public. The Liberal government has proven that virtue signalling is a bad way to manage a country because it creates more problems than it solves.
Bill makes its first mistake on the very first line of the bill, “An Act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions.” While I am sure the Liberals meant no-fee record suspension, there is no such thing as a no-cost record suspension. The process of suspending a criminal record costs the taxpayers money, $630 specifically. It is a cost recovery process in that an individual pays for the administrative costs for an application. Taxpayers will be on the hook for each pardon request, each suspension request. While providing the record suspension for an individual with historical convictions for a minor offence is not a big issue, allocating taxpayer money to the cost of that at a time when millions of Canadians are saying that everyday costs are out of reach, just shows how out of touch the government is to the everyday working Canadian.
This can hardly be called a priority for Canadians and the average Canadian family. That is the main issue I hear from many in the justice and policing community. The priorities of the government seem to be out of step with the needs of Canadians, the needs of our country and the needs of community safety, whether it is in the cities fighting gangs or in rural areas, providing police response to support and fight the rising crime rates. As I have said many times in this place, it must be the top priority of the House of Commons to put protections of Canadians ahead of political priorities, parties and election. Protecting Canadians is far more important than one's political fortunes.
Clearly, this is not the case for the Liberal , his senior cabinet ministers and staffers. While we can draw this conclusion from their priorities in the public safety portfolio, the SNC-Lavalin scandal brought this in clear view.
The , the Clerk of the Privy Council, the Minister of Finance and senior staff, including Gerald Butts and Ben Chin, noted that elections were more of a priority than the independence of our judicial process. Intervening in a criminal prosecution, quite possibly attempting to obstruct justice, and undermining the independence of our justice system was not as important to them as helping out their friends from a Montreal-based employer. “I'm an MP in Quebec” the Prime Minister is said to have responded. Sadly, the few jobs that might have been impacted, and SNC-Lavalin says almost no jobs would be impacted, pales in comparison to the tens of thousands of jobs lost in my province of Alberta in the energy sector.
The Prime Minister is fond of suggesting his words are important, but sadly his actions are found wanting. The priorities of Canadians are not the priorities—
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and yes, I would ask my hon. colleague to be patient. I will get to my point forthwith.
The priorities of Canadians are not the priorities of this Liberal and his government, and this could not be more clear than when two former cabinet ministers were removed from their party. They were banished last week, and there was a breakdown in trust. Sadly, the fault lies clearly with the Prime Minister and his cronies, while the penalties continue to be placed on the members who were removed.
The has offered one falsehood after another trying to it explain away. Quite bluntly, it has been painfully obvious to the rest of the country that he put politics ahead of the best interests of Canadians.
The Liberals have tabled their bill for taxpayer-funded records suspensions. There it is; I am back on the issue. How does this align with the needs of Canadians? In general, how does it fit with public safety? The many issues facing our country in protecting our communities and ensuring a strong, fair justice system go well beyond the trying to interfere with the independence of the former or the director of public prosecutions.
We know where Canada is struggling with public safety. According to Statistics Canada information, Canada has a gang problem in our cities. We have a justice problem, with backlogged courts and court appointments for judges. We have a rural crime problem. We have a sentencing and recidivism problem, with revolving doors in the justice and jail system. We have evidence-lab challenges and RCMP police-resourcing challenges. Stats Canada has shown that gang-related shootings are primarily responsible for recent increases in violent crime in this country, and to date, the only Liberal response has been unfulfilled promises.
Instead of action, the Liberals' legislative changes, like Bill , for example, went after licensed firearms owners instead of criminals. As the Department of Public Safety noted in its own consultation document, the vast majority of licensed firearms owners are not involved in crime. In fact, statistics provided to the public safety committee suggest that it is under 1%. The Liberals' legislative response to gang violence and illegal weapons has been to crack down on less than 1% of the problem and to ignore the 99%.
What would help? I know a number of items that could help improve public safety and reduce violent crime. First is spending the money the government promised for policing and to go after organized crime. Second is to put more resources into public prosecutions, courts and evidence labs. These have all been shown to be under-resourced, especially with the recent court decision to limit trial length. Third is to stop softening sentences for violent criminals, as proposed in Bill . Serious crime needs serious punishment for reform to work, and all these ideas have evidence to show that they are needed and would have an impact.
What will not have an impact is a taxpayer-funded pot pardon. No one would be safer because of this policy. A very small number of Canadians would benefit from it. The truth, from my experience, is that most individuals likely to seek record suspensions may have a number of other convictions as well. While they may receive a single free record suspension, their other charges may not be so free. Possession might be only one of the many charges on a person's record.
Where would Bill leave this House and Canada on the constant effort to combat crime in an ever-changing and evolving world? After three and a half years of Liberal mismanagement, we have a strained legal system that sees more and more criminals going free, rather than facing charges, or pleading to significantly less-serious charges.
Prisoners will now have access to needles whenever and wherever they want in prisons. As our correctional officers have told us and have pointed out more than once, even in Europe, which the Liberals claim to be copying, the needles are never in the general population; they are in the hands of medical staff. Rather than dealing with the cause of crime, most often addiction, the Liberal plan is to continue the addiction.
Under the current Liberal government, we have seen a horrific record of protecting communities from returning ISIS fighters. When we asked the committee how many outstanding monitoring warrants were placed on the 60 ISIS terrorists who have returned, the number was zero.
While I have no doubt that teams at CSIS and the RCMP are working to keep tabs on these individuals, and are doing a great job, limited by the legislation from the government, the red tape and oversight rules proposed under Bill would no doubt make it harder to watch known radical extremists who have participated in horrific, hate-based crimes. To me and many Canadians, a desire to join ISIS is itself an admission that someone supports violence.
The is happy to talk about being opposed to radicals and extremists, but none of his actions suggest that he is serious about combatting the sources of radicalization or the threat of domestic terrorism. Words matter, but actions have impacts.
We have seen a radical and damaging string of policies that have increased drugs in our communities and have not helped make anyone safer. Whether it was the poorly thought-out and rushed legislation on marijuana, which ignored reasonable requests from police and medical professionals, or the unnecessary risk of drug-impaired driving, to my knowledge, we still do not have a reliable roadside mechanism to test for drug impairment or to increase supervised injection sites.
Nothing so explains the potential harm of the Liberal approach to crime as the issue of rural crime, which we are dealing with in rural Canada. My riding has a small city and an expansive rural region. Across Alberta, Saskatchewan and other parts of our country, we have heard from Canadians about the rampant, escalating crime in rural communities committed, for the most part, by urban criminals victimizing rural Canadians where police response is minimal, delayed, or in some cases, nonexistent.
Canadians have told us heartbreaking stories of violent encounters, financial hardship and trauma from repeated thefts and victimization. Canadians have spoken of fear, alienation and abandonment. That is not Canada. That is not my Canada, but it has become an unfortunate reality in the 's Canada.
With Bill , the government is proposing a no-fee, no-waiting-period record suspension without any enquiries or reviews of personal history or conduct. The reason we have a Parole Board, both the administration and the regional organization, appointed to conduct hearings is to exercise discretion in the review of individual cases. Parole hearings can uncover vital information about convictions, such as a plea deal with lesser charges despite the person having been involved in serious and violent crimes.
While there are likely to be a very limited number of cases like this, such cases may be separated from simple possession issues. Moreover, some plea deals may have been arranged with lesser charges but with specific instructions, such as an agreement to have no record suspension, as appropriate to the person's personal history.
This means that these pardons would be granted as a matter of process, and the board would take up no inquiry of the person and would have little or no opportunity to exercise discretion. This means that even in cases where it was patently obvious that the person continued a criminal lifestyle but did not have a conviction entered against him or her, a pardon would be granted.
The police in this country have raised some concerns about Bill . They suggest that our officers need to feel confident that individuals who are a threat to public safety and the public order are going to be popping up on CPIC, even if they have been convicted of simple possession.
Here is a scenario as an example. There are many individuals who have been charged with more than one serious criminal drug offence, but once they have gone to court and worked out a plea deal for simple possession for a multitude of possession charges, these charges are then reduced for multiple reasons, such as to ease a court backlog, to save witnesses from testifying or to secure testimony for the conviction of a bigger criminal player, etc. The plea to a simple possession charge would be used by the Crown with the understanding, as I said previously, that the conviction would still be a permanent part of that individual's record, ensuring that any future investigation of a similar nature could be appropriately linked and applied to that person's own personal history.
This does not serve the best interests of officer safety or community safety. It does not promote the rehabilitation of those entrenched in the criminal element, the ones who threaten to be repeat offenders.
I appreciate the fact that we cannot hold unproven facts against individuals. That would be unfair. However, we cannot ignore the circumstances that would lead to the arrest, charging and conviction of individuals using the available laws and the discretion of the day, which is key. The Crown and the courts would not have accepted the lesser pleas knowing the proposal today. This itself would affect the administration of justice.
There are two very different scenarios at play here: one person who is stopped and charged for carrying a dime bag of marijuana versus a person who is caught up in a drug ring and pleads to a simple possession charge. They are two very different people, but the proposed changes would treat them the same way. One is not a danger to police or the community, and the other continues to pose a risk. That is what should be screened. There should not just be blanket pardons.
While the Liberals are happy to talk about there being discretion in our justice system, they have removed the discretion of the public service at the Parole Board as well as the discretion of the Parole Board itself. It is important to keep in context the arrest charges and plea deals, especially since many plea deals would never have considered the possibility of a future government legalizing drugs and imposing record suspensions without any review or context.
The House should consider that no individuals would benefit from this act who would be excluded otherwise, and I can see no way to make that happen without an appropriate review.
I hope that members of the committee are not prevented from making minor and common-sense amendments to the legislation that would ensure public safety. Already we have seen too many pieces of legislation from the Liberals that ignore common sense and public safety in favour of policy and division.
To be clear, I know, and I believe members know, that these are not the public safety priorities of Canadians. This bill would not help victims recover from the trauma of violent crime. It would not prevent criminals from victimizing rural Canadians. It would not stop gang violence or deter youth from joining gangs. It would not address illegal firearms in our country. It would not address the many concerns and challenges faced by prosecutors and police across the country.
I see Bill as a continuation of the Liberals' plan: more minor gestures without the requisite actions to combat addiction, crime and poverty to improve public safety. It is a plan that would provide a benefit to a select and small group of Canadians at taxpayers' expense, a plan that would double down on legalizing marijuana while ignoring real, serious and important threats to Canada's public safety. These are not the priorities of Canadians. This bill does not address the issues, and from what I have heard from police and prosecutors across the country, it does not address their concerns.
I can only assume that Liberal MPs will once again be called on to vote in blind faith with the and the , because today more and more Canadians are seeing clearly that the priorities of the Liberals are not the priorities of Canadians.