Mr. Speaker, following up from the previous member, I would like to say that I too would not have to lie at the border, as I have never used marijuana or even inhaled a cigarette. I am happy to make that task easy.
I want to comment on several items that have come up in debate. The first is that one of the members suggested that one of the goals of legalizing marijuana was to take money away from organized crime and that it had not occurred. That is, of course, patently false. The facts are totally different. There have been a lot of legal sales of cannabis, so huge amounts of funds have been taken away from organized crime. I do not think anyone in this House would argue that is not a benefit to our community.
There was another point by the same member, that there was a danger of pardoning someone who had a more serious offence than simple possession of marijuana for personal use. That was a good point. The bill has been crafted to make sure that in the investigation of that pardon, it was not for some other crime. Sometimes the records may be vague and not specify exactly what substance was involved in the offence, or it may not be clear at the outset that the possession was not for personal use but was for the purpose of trafficking. That is one of the reasons that the bill was crafted the way it is, so that these things are investigated.
I have to agree that the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley brought up a good point. I hope that is looked at by the committee when witnesses are brought forward. The effects of an administrative offence coming out of the possession offence needs to be investigated, especially in difficult circumstances, to see how that should be dealt with.
One of the big points which was brought up quite well by the member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques related to crossing the border. Before I address that, I want to say that I have great respect for that member and the way he comports himself. I was hoping to meet him in the halls in the next few days to tell him this. He is very positive. He does not attack people personally. He makes his arguments in a very rationale, positive and diplomatic way, the way that parliamentarians should. I want to commend him for that.
However, on the point about crossing the border, expungement would make it easier. This is where some members might be confused. It could be more difficult. As members know, with an expungement, the record disappears. When crossing the border, a person could think that if the Americans ask if they have had a record for the use of marijuana, they could say no, thinking the record has totally disappeared. The record has totally disappeared in Canada. However, unfortunately, when there are pardons, expungements and things in Canada, the Americans do not erase their records. Something could show up in the American records that the person had an offence for marijuana, but they said no because they thought it was erased. That person is then caught not telling the truth to the border agents, and, of course, we know the serious results of not telling the truth to an American border official.
Expungement does not necessarily make crossing the border easier. In some ways, it could make it more difficult, especially if an American border agent wants reaffirmation from Canada of a record suspension and an assurance that everything is fine. If a Canadian official cannot find the suspension, then the American border agent will wonder whether this is because there was no record originally or because Canadian officials cannot find it because of poor administrative practices. This may, in some cases, make things more difficult under certain circumstances.
I will begin by noting that I will be referring to record suspensions as pardons, even though they are technically called record suspensions.
Bill C-93 is about making things fair for Canadians and their families. For far too long, many Canadians have had the burden of a criminal record simply for possessing cannabis. Imagine trying to apply for a job, only to be turned down due to something like this. Imagine being unable to find housing or even to volunteer in the community just because of a conviction for simple possession of cannabis. Imagine the stigma of a criminal record, which can be difficult to navigate even when the burden is removed.
Indeed, a pardon would help many Canadians get back on their feet. That is why the government wants to do the right thing and the fair thing.
Bill C-93 would streamline the pardons process by waiving the wait periods, which could last up to 10 years, for applicants whose only convictions were for simple possession of marijuana. This means that they will be immediately eligible to apply for a pardon, provided they have completed their sentence and have not incurred any other convictions.
An interesting point was brought up by the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley related to administrative convictions of simple possession. I hope the committee will look at this issue, should the bill pass second reading.
Previously I made another a point related to administrative provisions. I would like to remind members that the private member's bill I brought forward related to FASD. People with fetal alcohol syndrome disorder have brain damage, through no fault of their own. They do not necessarily understand that it is important for them to show up for their appointments and that there are ramifications for not doing so. As a result, they get into a never-ending spiral, going into and out of prison through a revolving door. This should never occur.
Although I was not able to get that bill through during this Parliament, I hope that someone will move that concept through the next Parliament so that people with FASD are not unreasonably convicted for things they do not even understand are crimes.
In the past, there were barriers to applying for pardons. Not only could getting one take a huge length of time, but there was also a cost. The $631 Parole Board application fee was definitely a barrier for many people, especially because many of those convicted were earning low incomes.
Under Bill C-93, this fee would be totally waived. This would allow people to turn their lives around, as they would no longer have a criminal record for simple possession of cannabis. That is the approach the government has determined to be the fairest and most sensible.
Of course, there has already been a robust debate and conversation about how best to approach this issue. Much of it predates the introduction of the Cannabis Act itself. In fact, it goes back decades.
Recreational use of cannabis has been unlawful in Canada since the prohibition era of the 1920s. However, its use was not popular until the 1960s.
In 1961, following the enactment of the Narcotic Control Act, convictions for simple possession of cannabis began to rise. The Narcotic Control Act was replaced with the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which remains in force today.
We know that charges and convictions for simple possession have disproportionately targeted marginalized groups in society, including indigenous and black Canadians, which is definitely a point that should be dealt with at committee when this bill is discussed.
All of this underlines the fact that, in understanding that a legalized cannabis regime would someday be a possibility in this country, the debate about pardons for those convictions has been around for a long time.
Fast forward to the royal assent to the Cannabis Act in June of last year, and its coming into force in October, at which point we made the public announcement of our intent to provide recourse for those convicted only of simple possession of cannabis. We promised and we delivered.
On the topic of pardons, the debate has largely centred on amnesty in the form of either pardons or expungement as a possible recourse. A number of parliamentarians had also expressed public support for granting amnesty for simple possession. We now have a variety of experiences to learn from and a wealth of ideas at our disposal as we move forward. What we do now must be in the best interest of Canadians to make things as fair as possible, in the most sensible and practical of ways.
The government has chosen to allow Canadians who have served their sentences for convictions related only to simple possession of cannabis to apply for a pardon with no Parole Board application fee or wait period. This is a fair approach. For instance, we could have authorized the expungement of convictions for simple possession of cannabis, as was suggested earlier. However, possession of illegally obtained cannabis continues to be unlawful today. That is why a pardon, which we are proposing under Bill C-93, is a very effective remedy.
Under this proposal, it bears no extra waiting time following completion of the sentence, and it bears no $631 Parole Board application fee. Under this proposal, an individual's record would be sealed and sequestered. This record could be examined again only in extraordinary circumstances, for example if some other offence is committed in the future. The suspended record could be disclosed in those exceptional circumstances only with the approval of the Minister of Public Safety. As we can imagine, anything that needs the approval of a minister of the Crown would not occur very often, and the suspended record would be disclosed only in these very extraordinary circumstances.
The effect of a pardon is fully recognized and protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act, which means that the crime previously committed but pardoned cannot be used as any form of discrimination in areas of federal responsibility. Most provinces and territories have similar legislation that protects against discrimination. Usually, when the federal government issues a pardon or a record suspension, the province or territory will do the same.
Waiving the wait period and application fee is unprecedented, and it carries the impact we want, which is helping to lift the stigma and burden of a criminal record from many Canadians and allowing them to participate meaningfully in society. We can imagine how many members of society are affected. There are tens of thousands of people in Canada who have used marijuana for personal reasons. Therefore, the procedure of legalizing cannabis for personal use that is not harming anyone, and then granting pardon to those who were criminalized in the past for such use, is a very important thing for our society. People can feel good about themselves and be able to compete in society for jobs or houses or for anything else on a level playing field with everyone else.
The practical effect and purpose of a pardon is to reduce the barriers to reintegration so that people can apply for jobs without being discriminated against or so they can become involved in a number of NGOs, things which they could not participate in if they had a criminal record. Sometimes housing is not allowed for people who have a criminal record. When they apply for any of these things, if they have a pardon, people would not know their past because the records would be sealed and would not be available to the people asking about them. We believe it is the most effective tool at our disposal to achieve the result we want for those people who have been carrying that record and that stigma around for too long.
The first step is to get the pardon in place. Bill C-93 would allow Canadians who have been previously convicted of simple possession to apply for a pardon. Once their sentence has been served, there would be no application fee or wait period. Barriers to reintegrate into society would be reduced for those individuals.
I look forward to the tens of thousands of people who were unjustly harmed by these rules and considerations in the past now being treated the same as anyone else in society. I commend Canada's leading role in this. I think a previous speaker said that we are only the second country in the world to do this. It will be another example of how Canada has provided some examples for the world on how to provide true justice for individuals who really did not harm anyone but were charged with simple possession of the substance for their own use and enjoyment, which in and of itself has certainly not been harmful to other people. There are other substances that could be more harmful to people and society because of what people do while under the influence of those substances, some of which are legal, some of which are not.
Certainly, this has had such a massive effect on Canadian society and I think it is really uplifting that it is now legalized and many Canadians will be able to get a pardon so that it will not have a negative effect on their lives.
I thank those who are looking at this as a positive change.