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View Bruce Stanton Profile
View Bruce Stanton Profile
2019-06-21 14:54 [p.29473]
I have the honour to inform the House that when this House did attend Her Excellency this day in the Senate chamber, Her Excellency the Governor General was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, the royal assent to the following bills:
C-71, An Act to amend certain Acts and Regulations in relation to firearms—Chapter 9.
C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada—Chapter 10.
S-203, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts (ending the captivity of whales and dolphins)—Chapter 11.
C-82, An Act to implement a multilateral convention to implement tax treaty related measures to prevent base erosion and profit shifting—Chapter 12.
C-59, An Act respecting national security matters—Chapter 13.
C-68, An Act to amend the Fisheries Act and other Acts in consequence—Chapter 14.
C-77, An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts—Chapter 15.
C-78, An Act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act—Chapter 16.
C-84, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (bestiality and animal fighting)—Chapter 17.
C-58, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts—Chapter 18.
C-88, An Act to amend the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts—Chapter 19.
C-93, An Act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis—Chapter 20.
C-102, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2020—Chapter 21.
C-101, An Act to amend the Customs Tariff and the Canadian International Trade Tribunal Act—Chapter 22.
C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages—Chapter 23.
C-92, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families—Chapter 24.
C-75, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to other Acts—Chapter 25.
C-48, An Act respecting the regulation of vessels that transport crude oil or persistent oil to or from ports or marine installations located along British Columbia's north coast—Chapter 26.
C-83, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another Act—Chapter 27.
C-69, An Act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts—Chapter 28.
C-97, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 19, 2019 and other measures—Chapter 29.
It being 2:55 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday, September 16, 2019, at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).
(The House adjourned at 2:55 p.m.)
The 42nd Parliament was dissolved by Royal Proclamation on September 11, 2019.
Aboriginal languagesAboriginal peoplesAccess for disabled peopleAccess to informationAdjournmentAgriculture, environment and natural res ...British ColumbiaBudget 2019 (March 19, 2019)C-101, An Act to amend the Customs Tarif ...C-102, An Act for granting to Her Majest ...C-48, An Act respecting the regulation o ...
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View Scott Reid Profile
View Scott Reid Profile
2019-06-10 15:43 [p.28821]
Mr. Speaker, the second petition is one that has not been repeated dozens times by other members. It is in relation to a cannabis production facility in my constituency in Beckwith Township. The petitioners are concerned that the facility does not meet Health Canada requirements. They urge the minister to look carefully, prior to issuing a licence for it.
View Jim Eglinski Profile
View Jim Eglinski Profile
2019-06-06 15:39 [p.28710]
Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak once more to Bill C-93, an act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis.
I will be splitting my time with the member for Elgin—Middlesex—London.
As I said last week, this is a terrible bill. It reminds me of the NAFTA bill. However, sometimes a bill is better than no bill.
As I have said many times in the House, I was never in favour of the legalization of marijuana, Bill C-45, which was another typically ill-conceived bill brought in by the Liberal government.
I will support the Bill C-93 because there is a common-sense element to it.
Although I did not support legalization, I am not naive enough to say that it was not right to look at the whole cannabis strategy in Canada. Let us face it, we are not the only ones. Many other countries have legalized or decriminalized marijuana. We only have to look at our closest and best trading partners, the good old U.S.A.
The use of marijuana has been legalized and decriminalized in Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, the District of Columbia, Mariana Islands and Guam. Many of these jurisdictions are looking at or have commenced programs to get rid of the old cannabis-related charges for simple possession. There are several different programs being looked at. Some are similar to this bill, Bill C-93. Some are similar to what the NDP has been pushing, which is expungement.
We have heard from many of my colleagues in the House about the injustices that have taken place with respect to Canadians who have records for simple possession of marijuana. Stories have been told about people being turned back at the U.S. border. However, in my research, I have found the same things are happening in the United States. I will provide two cases. We have heard this before with respect to our people, just not south of the border. I will not to give their names to protect their identity.
A 70-year-old retired carpenter in the United States, who once ran for the Senate, was convicted back in 1968 for simple possession. His conviction caused him to be refused entry into Canada and he is unable to purchase a firearm in the United States.
Another gentleman, a professional lighting technician, worked for Willy Nelson for a time. Because of a misdemeanour drug charge as a youth, he was unable to accompany the band on tour to Canada.
Therefore, I strongly believe we need to remove the records for Canadians who were charged with simple possession of marijuana. Clearing people's records can remove barriers to employment and housing.
Many groups in Canada have become victims because of the area they live in and the environment around them. Many are good people who made the wrong choice at the wrong time. That is why I support Bill C-93, although I feel the bill did not go far enough. It should have, and could have, looked at many minor Criminal Code offences, such as public mischief and wilful damage, offences we call misdemeanours in the Criminal Code. There is always room to fix things. Maybe sometime in the future Bill C-93 coanbe fixed.
I spoke about this last week. In California, Code for America has brought out a program called “Clear My Record”. It is a computerized program that allows for the expedient removal of simple criminal code records, such as the simple possession of marijuana.
From the list of states I mentioned previously, nearly every one has passed laws that allow people to clear or change their criminal records. Those states recognize the impact on the economy and on the lives of families when millions are shut out of the workforce or unable to fully reintegrate into their communities because of criminal records from their past. I was shocked to learn, in my research on Bill C-93, that one in three people had a criminal record in the United States.
I also discovered that those states that had a cumbersome, overly complicated system of removing one's record failed in their goals. Only a small fraction of the tens of millions of eligible Americans benefited from these laws, which was directly related to being over-complicated, costly and took too much time to do.
“Code for America”, a computerized system that was adopted by California, is a modern 21st century technology that is quick, efficient and benefits the recipients. “Clear my Record” is a free online tool that assists people in California to navigate the complicate process of clearing their records. People can fill out a short, easy to understand application online that typically takes 10 minutes to get connected to a legal authority.
Jazmyn Latimer and Ben Golder, who co-developed the program, realized there was a problem when they looked into how many people were taking advantage of getting their records expunged. They found that less than 8% of the people who qualified accomplished it, simply because the system was opaque, hard to understand and navigate and costly, both for the people with the records and for the government. Does this sound like Bill C-93? It very much does.
I made recommendations to Bill C-93 during committee that the Canadian Parole Board look at electronic means of modernizing the way we do business. We are still following 20th century technology, trying to do too much by hand. Why? I could not get an answer for that.
The state of California, which has implemented the electronic process, has plans to try to clear over 250,000 cannabis-related convictions by 2020. That is probably as many as we have in Canada, and if not, a lot more. I hope it succeeds.
As well, I hope our Parole Board looks at an electronic process for Canadians with all possession charges and to expand in the future to look at other minor Criminal Code offences. We owe it to Canadians to make this system simple and free so they can get rid of their records, live better lives and be less of a burden on society.
View Jim Eglinski Profile
View Jim Eglinski Profile
2019-06-06 15:50 [p.28711]
Madam Speaker, the Conservatives' stand was that we were trying to run an efficient government, with a balanced budget. Sometimes, governments must take hard measures, realizing that certain expenses may have to be passed down to the public. It is obvious that not many people are receiving the benefits of our parole program and pardon system.
We would be naive if we did not look at ways of modernizing it. Bill C-93 tries to do that. It should have gone further. It should have been more forceful in looking at electronic means to make it simpler, less costly and more efficient for the government.
View Jim Eglinski Profile
View Jim Eglinski Profile
2019-06-06 15:53 [p.28712]
Madam Speaker, I have mixed emotions. Expungement would be a quick and simple way of doing it. However, I was a police officer for 35 years. Many times when I charged an individual with possession for the purpose of trafficking, that charge got reduced. There may have been other charges. When that person went to court, the Crown and the defence lawyer would decide to plea bargain and, a lot of times, it went down to the simple possession charge. Therefore, I have a hard time with that.
We need to have a way to clarify if the is the only thing relating to the charge of simple possession. I personally have dealt with hundreds of cases over the years, where I may have made the charge simple possession but it may have been a lot more serious. If the guy was polite and co-operative, I would give him the benefit of the doubt. The chiefs of police have brought that concern forward.
I know that technically we could do it with the press of a button, but I do not know if that would be right. We need to really look in-depth at that aspect. We need some way of clarifying it. It is not as easy as a simple possession. In many cases, there are a lot of other things relating to that charge.
View Karen Vecchio Profile
View Karen Vecchio Profile
2019-06-06 15:54 [p.28712]
Madam Speaker, I could just stand here and listen to the member for a few more minutes. There is so much to learn, because this debate does have so many different sides to it. We have people who have spent 35 years in the policing community, who have a voice in here. People who have had a criminal charge against them have a voice in here. There are so many different things that we need to look at, so I do respect the words that the member said. That is what makes a healthy debate in the House of Commons.
I am proud to stand here and speak to Bill C-93, an act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis. Although I am not 100% behind the bill, I do feel that it does what is best for Canadians.
To begin, I am concerned about the cost to taxpayers. There are different ways of looking at this. In the previous Conservative government, the process was a user-pay system. This system was put in, and for many years in my experience as a constituency assistant, I would sit with people who had a criminal record and needed to get a record suspension.
We would go through the list of what they needed to do, everything from going to the police station and to the courthouse and all of those different things that were necessary. In many cases, people were trying to get their criminal record suspended because they were looking for better opportunities, for better jobs, for things that would increase their livelihood. I fully respected that.
For many people, although there are different ways of looking at this, what I found was that sometimes the user-pay system was very difficult. For those people who wanted to have a better life, I found it extremely difficult when I knew that they did not have the means, and all they wanted was to have a job. Sometimes this is a real difficulty.
What is at the end of the day for taxpayers? The border security minister indicated that there could be up to 400,000 Canadians who have a criminal record for simple possession, but the government expects between 70,000 and 80,000 are eligible to apply. According to public safety, the cost would be approximately $2.5 million, equalling approximately 10,000 applicants.
There are ways of doing this. I believe that when someone breaks the law, there needs to be some sort of penalty, but sometimes the penalties can live on forever if people do not have the opportunity to have their record suspended, because it is not going away. If people do not have the means to pay for that record suspension, they are going to continue to have that record.
That is why I wish I could see that the government looked at a possible means test. The Liberals talk about means tests all the time, and about not helping the millionaires or the people who do not need it, so I do not know why they did not consider having means tests. Those people who cannot afford it could pay what they can—pay a small portion or pay for the court documents or the records or whatever it is they need. It could be very difficult, but instead we will have people who are making zero dollars and people who are making $500,000 all paying the same to make it universal.
We know that this is an expensive program, so if we are looking it as a poverty reduction measure, let us make sure we are actually helping those in poverty by reducing the cost to them so that those people can have a better life.
One of the discussions we had was whether it was necessary, the idea being that people would say getting a job was not a big deal and having a criminal record was okay. I lived during an economic downturn, and people who had lost their job at Ford in St. Thomas or lost their job at Sterling or a variety of other places were now looking to get a foot in another door. One of the things stopping them was their criminal record.
Many people would say it is against human rights. If there is no reason to worry about that criminal record and it has nothing to do with their job, it should not matter to the employer whether they have a criminal record or not, but let us be honest: When a company is receiving 200 applications and notices there is a criminal record, it is very easy to put it into the “later” pile, because those are issues it does not want to deal with. Companies do not know that it may be a simple possession of marijuana, but it is a simple way of separating the good from the bad, even though the best employee may be lost in that later pile. Those are some of the things we have to understand.
One of the key elements to this issue is poverty reduction. I believe giving every Canadian a chance to better themselves is extremely important, and now that we have legislation that allows for the possession of cannabis and the use of cannabis for people over the age of 18 in Canada, we need to be able to make sure that nothing is holding them back. Having this record suspension so that they can have better lives is key when it comes to a poverty reduction strategy, and it is one of the things that should be implemented for that strategy.
Law enforcement seems to be somewhat supportive. It is off and on. However, as we just heard from the previous speaker, sometimes people had reduced charges. For instance, people trafficking on the streets or who had something else in their possession may have had a reduced charge. There may have been other petty crimes like that, but the possession of cannabis was seen and may have been the only charge laid.
As the previous speaker said, it would be really nice if we could find out more, but what more do we need to do? At the end of the day, it would definitely slow down the process and would not make the process as expedient as people would wish. However, it is important, because sometimes people who have committed much greater crimes have only this possession conviction on their record. In some cases, it was the only offence for which a person could be found guilty, or it may have been a plea deal or a variety of things like that.
Some Canadians, like the NDP, are asking for full expungement. However, I question full expungement because of those cases in which a person has been able to get the charges reduced to simple possession.
There were several common sense amendments put forward by the Conservative Party that were defeated.
Those who had fines and had never paid them would still be eligible for this program, which defeats the whole purpose of having a fine. This is one thing that I am really concerned with. If, let us say, a person has a fine from 20 years ago sitting on their record, it would also be expunged. However, if my mom had a fine, for example, she would be at the station paying it the very next day, because that is who she is. She is a very honourable person. There are some people who may forget, which is one thing, but there are people who just choose not to pay the fine, and they would have this service as well, so at the end of the day, was there any penalty? The answer would be no.
I also think that the surcharge should be up to those individuals with unpaid fines and should not be laid upon the taxpayer.
One thing I like is the amendment that would allow the swearing of an affidavit. Many times I have helped people who have tried to get their records. They have gone to the courthouses and police stations, but sometimes getting those records has been extremely difficult, so the opportunity to swear an affidavit is a very positive amendment. I congratulate all parties who supported it.
Turning back to the legislation, a criminal record showing that charges were withdrawn or that there was an acquittal can have negative effects and can be an obstacle for people wanting to volunteer at their child's school. For years I volunteered at my children's schools in reading programs or on school trips, although not so much now that I am a member of Parliament. However, if a person has been charged with simple possession in the past—which, let us be honest, has happened to a lot of Canadians—that person is not allowed to volunteer at their child's school or for a school trip. If this was something that happened when they were 18 years old and now they are taking their 10-year-old on a school trip, it is just really out there.
We have these screenings because children are vulnerable and we want to make sure that the children have the best opportunity to be with the best role models, but a simple possession charge does not make a person a horrific human being. It is so important that we allow those people to also be involved, whether it is volunteering at food banks, schools, or churches, or at many organizations where a person's criminal record must be clean. These are big concerns.
This goes to the idea of where the NDP would go. What would happen if there was expungement? There are a lot of issues with that. People with a criminal record would be unable to work at a bank, at most government jobs, as insurance or real estate brokers, taxi drivers, police officers, or private investigators. They would be unable to work at restaurants where alcohol is served and, as I said, as volunteers.
We have to give people opportunities, and sometimes it is as simple as giving them a second chance.
Therefore, I am pleased to support the bill before us. As with any other piece of legislation, we will have to look at it and make sure that it is doing exactly what it is supposed to be doing. We have to make sure that it does what it is supposed to do for the people who are supposed to gain the ability to have their sentences removed.
Let us do this while looking ahead and also looking behind to make sure that we have done it properly.
View Karen Vecchio Profile
View Karen Vecchio Profile
2019-06-06 16:05 [p.28713]
Madam Speaker, I think part of it is making sure that those records are all compiled, because people have to go here, here and here. We need to make it user-friendly. That is one of the biggest things we have to lean towards, making it user-friendly.
View Karen Vecchio Profile
View Karen Vecchio Profile
2019-06-06 16:07 [p.28714]
Madam Speaker, I was fully supportive of Bill C-66 and the expungement. Being an ally of the LGBTQ+ community, I look at people and who they are. This is something I look at differently. When comparing cannabis to a person's sexual diversity, I find the issues to be very different.
That being said, we need to make sure that we are actually focusing on people charged with simple possession. The thing is, I am concerned that we can come to an administrative barrier. Part of it is that I know the drug dealers on the street. I know there is a big issue happening here.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mrs. Karen Vecchio: I do not know them all by name.
Part of the issue is that there are some bad people out there, and I do not want to just say, “Forget about it. It was a simple charge.” Some of those people have caused great angst for many families.
View Karen Vecchio Profile
View Karen Vecchio Profile
2019-06-06 16:09 [p.28714]
Madam Speaker, I look at this and I am just not there yet with expungement. I need more facts to show that we are getting only the people who have had simple possession. I think that is where my breaking point is, simple possession versus trafficking. That is where the line is.
View Michael Barrett Profile
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my neighbour to the north, the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston.
I rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-93. When I spoke to the bill previously, I expressed my concern that it has been rushed to meet the Prime Minister's self-imposed political timeline. We are going to miss real opportunities to get this right, and there was a lot of runway for the government to get this done.
Municipalities are going to struggle with this. There will be real costs for them. We have heard from law enforcement professionals about the challenges that the hurried legislation will present for them. Health care professionals have also expressed concerns about the timetable that came with legalization. It is fair to describe it as half-baked indeed.
The issues that come from a lack of due diligence are so much more than the downloading of responsibilities to municipalities. It furthers the inequalities people will face.
There is also a risk, as my colleague said, that we will not be able to have full visibility on the criminal records of the folks who will receive these expedited pardons. Perhaps the amendments that were proposed ought to have been given better and proper consideration by the government in an effort to further the interests of justice in Canada.
The last time I spoke to the bill, I described issues in a very clear way for the government to give it the opportunity to understand and consider the error of its ways. I did this using the story of “The Tortoise and the Hare”. I will not retell it, as I am sure government members were captivated by my first telling of it. However, the fact remains that through the government's failure to deliver, we find ourselves here.
When the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety spoke on this issue, she conceded that due diligence had not been done. She said:
However, not all of the fines are owed to the federal government. All the federal government can do is wipe its fines, but it has to discuss this with provinces and municipalities and encourage them to do the same. That kind of discussion is ongoing, but it will take a while to come to an understanding of how provinces and municipalities can actually contribute to this process.
Further on she said:
Mr. Speaker, I believe how it would work, at a provincial or municipal level, is that payment of those fines, if they are not granted amnesty on those fines, would be through civil recourse.
It is pretty late in the game, as we are at quite an advanced stage, for those discussions to be ongoing or, more correctly, not happening.
Concerns that have been expressed by stakeholders persist. We have heard what the risks are for municipalities. However, our law enforcement and public safety professionals continue to have inadequate tools for roadside testing and screening for impairment. That presents a grave challenge. Despite all of the time and education that has been invested in preventing and stopping alcohol-impaired driving, we continue to have issues. Authorities could run a ride check any time of day and they would find people who are impaired.
It concerns me that while our law enforcement agents are out trying to do their jobs with this newly legalized substance, they do not have the tools and the tool kit to get the job done. The tool they have is error-plagued. Members may recall that the device police have been given is the same device on which folks test positive for opiate use after eating a poppyseed bagel.
An hon. member: What?
Mr. Michael Barrett: Madam Speaker, I share the shock and surprise of my colleague. It is unbelievable.
The rush to get things done comes out of the government now realizing that it has run out of runway and it wants to have a few things on the achievement list after a pretty rough spring for Canada.
The institution that we believe in, the independence of our judiciary, has been questioned. It has been weakened by the Liberal government's actions. We need to look no further than the SNC-Lavalin scandal. We need to look no further than the politically motivated prosecution and persecution of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman.
Now that the Liberals are looking to get a few accomplishments in their brochures for the election, this bill is one that they want to get done.
The Liberals have broken promises that they made in the last election. The democratic reform that they promised has not materialized. Certainly, it is quite the opposite. It is very concerning that the Liberals have Elections Canada now paying the better part of three-quarters of a million dollars to Instagram models and the like to influence the outcome of the election. It is preposterous. I cannot even believe that is part of the government's strategy. It clearly is not the work of a serious mind.
So much of what the Liberals have failed to do risks the future for Canadians. Failing to balance the budget, as the Liberals promised, is a huge problem. Having been given a balanced budget in 2015, they plunged us into deficit after deficit after deficit. Here we are in year four with another deficit. These deficits today will be the taxes of tomorrow. It is very concerning for Canadians.
We had a promise from the government that it was going to take real action on the environment. Hundreds of thousands of litres of raw sewage are being dumped into the St. Lawrence without consequence. It is not a concern for the Liberals.
In the absence of a plan to help the environment, the Liberals put a tax on everything. They put a tax on driving one's kids to hockey and a tax to run a small business, those same small businesses that the Liberal government alleged to be tax cheats.
Conservatives know that small businesses are the backbone of our economy. They are the real economic driver. We have often heard the government say that it created one million jobs. It is not the government's responsibility to create jobs. It needs to create an environment where jobs can be created. Canadians create jobs.
The Liberals will not accept responsibility for failures but they are quick to take credit for other people's successes. Certainly they are quick to take credit on the backs of ordinary Canadians and small business owners, just as they are quick to bring in taxes to pay for their reckless spending.
It is a hurried process that we have arrived at with Bill C-93, but it matches very much the chaotic nature of the government.
We will monitor the implementation of this bill. We commit to reviewing its effectiveness and fairness. When we form government, we will see if any changes need to be made to ensure the reasonableness and fairness of it are applied.
View Michael Barrett Profile
Madam Speaker, I find it interesting that the parliamentary secretary would say there has not been an increase in impaired driving cases. The Liberals have not even given the police the tools necessary to detect if impaired driving has occurred. The equipment that they approved is not even ready to use. It is pretty rich for the Liberals to say that the implementation has been without error. In fact, I think the chaos that the Conservatives predicted has arrived.
View Michael Barrett Profile
Madam Speaker, I have had the pleasure of visiting the riding of Kootenay—Columbia and it is, indeed, quite wonderful, although I did not visit any cannabis-growing farms.
Bill C-93, in its current form, is flawed. The amendments proposed at committee by industry in response to recommendations by industry experts would have served this piece of legislation well. With a view to fairly implementing the new legislation in what should have been lockstep with the legalization of marijuana, the Conservatives are going to support this piece of legislation, but, as I said before, like so many other pieces of legislation that the Liberals implemented, we will fix it and clean up the mess.
View Scott Reid Profile
View Scott Reid Profile
2019-06-06 16:22 [p.28716]
Madam Speaker, there was a discussion by a Liberal member about my party being afraid of the consequences of cannabis legalization. There was an implication that a Conservative government would want to recriminalize or put penalties in place for the use of cannabis in the future, and I thought that was an unfortunate implication.
I want to give my colleague the opportunity to make it clear what the Conservative Party position is with regard to the legal status of cannabis under a Conservative government after the next election.
View Michael Barrett Profile
Madam Speaker, I thank my neighbour to the north in Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston for the opportunity to say that of course, a Conservative government would make no effort to recriminalize cannabis.
View Scott Reid Profile
View Scott Reid Profile
2019-06-06 16:23 [p.28716]
Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague to the south, who has been representing very ably the riding that was, until very recently and for a long time, represented by my dear friend and colleague Gord Brown. Those were big shoes to fill. I know I am expressing a view that is shared by many in his constituency when I say that my colleague is doing a very admirable job, and my hat is off to him for that.
This is my second opportunity to address Bill C-93 and my third to address the issue of pardons for the formerly criminal act of simple possession of cannabis. I was also able to address the private member's bill, Bill C-415, which was moved in the name of our colleague from Victoria.
I want to focus my remarks primarily on the contrast between the expungement model in Bill C-415 and the record suspension or pardon model in Bill C-93. Looking at this bill and the comments raised in committee persuades me of the truth of a remark that was made in committee by a criminal defence lawyer, Solomon Friedman, who said:
I should first note that Bill C-93 is better than nothing. But better than nothing is a mighty low bar for our Parliament. You can do better. You must do better. Instead, I would urge a scheme of expungement along the lines already provided for in the Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act.
That act was, of course, passed by this Parliament at the instigation of the current government, which revealed that expungement is, at least in principle, possible for the former offence of simple possession of cannabis.
Better than nothing turns out to be the equivalent, in practice, of very little at all. Parole Board officials testifying before the committee studying this bill estimated that out of the 250,000 to 500,000 Canadians with convictions for cannabis possession, only 10,000 would apply for a record suspension or expedited pardon.
I will make two comments. First, I am not sure how much precision or accuracy we can expect in the prediction of 10,000 from people who said that the number of records out there is somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000. That is a substantial margin of error. Additionally, if it is 10,000, why so few? The answer, in part, is the incredibly bureaucratic nature of the process under Bill C-93. When looking at Bill C-93, one gets the impression that the government looked at all available options for dealing with this issue and selected the most bureaucratic one it could find.
Let me quote from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, a supporter of this bill, and my point will be made. In promotion of the bill, she said:
[W]hy not just do it like some California municipalities and erase all the records with the press of a button? We do have an electronic police database of criminal records here in Canada, however, that database does not contain enough information to allow for a proactive amnesty....
[The] Parole Board should explore options for moving towards a more digitized system capable of receiving applications electronically, something particularly important for Canadians in rural areas.
That system would be in the future, not under this bill. That is a reference to the problems of getting access to broadband Internet in rural areas.
The parliamentary secretary then said:
In the meantime, the Parole Board is taking a number of steps to simplify the application process in other ways. It is simplifying its website and application form. It is creating a dedicated, toll-free phone number and an email address to help people with their applications.
In other words, none of this stuff is available, and it will take some time before that happens. She continued:
It is developing a community outreach strategy with a particular focus on the communities most [likely to be] affected by the criminalization of cannabis to make sure that people know about this new expedited process and how to access it...
We will need an advertising campaign.
This is going to be slow and complicated. By contrast, what would have happened under an expungement system? Expungement is nothing the government ever considered. Indeed, it seems not to have even thought of this possibility. Under expungement, we would simply say that the government would act as if any record that stated that a person had been convicted for possession of cannabis did not actually exist. If we found it, we simply would say there was nothing there.
This is done by the courts all the time. Any correspondence between lawyers done on a without prejudice basis, whether or not the words “without prejudice” are put at the front of the various pieces of correspondence, is automatically disregarded by a court. They have no ability to present it as evidence in a proceeding.
Similarly, we could do the same thing with records. This would overcome the problem of having different records kept in different ways, some on paper and some electronically, in different jurisdictions. They would simply have no existence in law. Because it is such a common conviction, when one was accessed, we would understand that it simply did not exist for the purpose of being used by any law enforcement official. That is how we could introduce expungement. This would eliminate all the bureaucracy, all the application fees that are necessary, which would still exist under this proposal, all the time, all the work and all the money that would have to be expended. There is a cost estimate, which I find hard to believe, attached to this bill. There would be zero cost with an expungement system.
In all fairness, the bill is better now than it was before it went to committee and came back with amendments. This is thanks, in part, to an amendment proposed by the member for Toronto—Danforth.
I will again read from the parliamentary secretary's words to give members an idea of what was done. She stated:
thanks to an amendment at committee from the member for Toronto—Danforth, people will be able to apply [for a pardon] even if they have outstanding fines associated with their cannabis possession conviction.
Due to an amendment we voted on at report stage...people whose only sentence was a fine will not be required to submit court documents as part of their application.
Finding these court documents was part of the supposedly costless, expedited process until this amendment was made.
On the other hand, a further suggested amendment, put forward by the Conservatives, was accepted at committee and then subsequently rejected by the government.
I will quote from our Conservative critic on this issue, who stated, “We proposed a measure to allow applicants whose records were destroyed to swear an affidavit explaining their situation and certifying that they are eligible”, which of course creates some paperwork but is less complicated than what we are left with. He went on to say, “This would have made the process even more fair. The Liberals agreed to this amendment in committee but changed their minds at report stage and decided to reject it.”
That would have helped relieve some of the bureaucracy. There are certain costs that continue to exist, and this prompted one person to quip, I think very appropriately, that the bill should not have been entitled an act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis, but rather, an act to provide for lower-cost, somewhat expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis.
In the remaining minute and a half of my time, I want to deal with another important issue. Getting a pardon essentially equals getting forgiveness. People have done something wrong, we forgive them, and we move on. Expungement is a way of saying that what they did was not wrong in the first place. There are some offences for which this might not be true, even if we eliminated them retrospectively. I think, in the case of cannabis possession, it is clear that our ancestors, those who came before us, did not make it legal because they felt it was morally wrong to ingest or use marijuana. They thought it was the best way to protect people from their own unwise instincts. It was a wrong move. It did not work. It ruined a lot of lives, but those people were not put in prison because they had done something that was evil or wrong or would harm the rest of society. Therefore, removing this is entirely appropriate. We need not save expungement, as the government has proposed, only for the righting of historical wrongs based on laws that are now prohibited under the charter. I suggest that, in this case, it is also appropriate, and I urge all of us to consider, as we look forward to the future, the expungement model, perhaps in a second piece of legislation in the 43rd Parliament.
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