Madam Speaker, before I begin, I should inform you that I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from Vaudreuil—Soulanges.
I am delighted to have a chance to speak at second reading of Bill C-93. This important bill would amend the Criminal Records Act to allow persons convicted only of simple possession of cannabis to apply for a record suspension, more commonly known as a pardon, without being subject to a waiting period or to the $631 fee once they have served their sentence.
This is a important step in the implementation of Canada's new cannabis legislation, following the entry into force of the Cannabis Act on October 17, 2018.
As we know, criminal records can seriously impact people's lives. It can make it harder to travel to foreign countries, restrict job prospects and housing options, and prevent people from going to school and upgrading their skills or education.
Another way of looking at it is that a criminal record is a useful public safety tool, including for landlords or employers.
People have to take responsibility for their actions. People have criminal records because they broke the law and their actions had consequences. However, those who serve their sentence should have a way of getting back on track without the burden of a permanent criminal record. That is especially true for the offence of cannabis possession, which no longer exists in the Criminal Code and had a disproportionate impact on minority communities.
The Canadian pardon system gives people this opportunity to move forward. A pardon is almost like a reset button that erases all criminal convictions from a person's record. When the parole board grants a pardon, federal files about the conviction are immediately set aside. Given that the provinces and territories also have their criminal records, the board informs them and they generally comply with the request to set aside the record.
When a pardon is granted, convictions are deleted from the RCMP national repository of criminal records. Pardoned convictions are not generally disclosed when undergoing a background check to find a job, rent a home or obtain a passport or a loan.
A pardon also eliminates any prohibitions associated with a criminal record, including eligibility for Canadian citizenship. Only the Minister of Public Safety has the authority to disclose information about pardons based on exceptional circumstances, such as when a person convicted of a sex offence applies to work or volunteer in a vulnerable sector.
Pardons are almost always permanent, unless the individual breaks the law again. Additionally, pardons are fully protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on convictions for which an individual has received a pardon.
Similar laws already exist in many provinces and territories. Another important consideration related to pardons has to do with crossing international borders. If a pardon has been granted, American border officials will not find any evidence of a criminal record when they search the Canadian databases to which they already have access. Of course, we cannot control what questions border officials might ask Canadian travellers. An official might ask travellers whether they have used cannabis, and if the answer is yes, neither a pardon nor expungement would allow them to respond honestly in the negative.
However, the advantage of pardons over expungement is that the documentation remains accessible as needed. For example, if a person's cannabis conviction was previously logged at the U.S. border, that person can provide documentation about that conviction on request. Once a criminal record is expunged, there is no longer any documentation for the person to present at the request of U.S. border officers, in which case the person can be denied entry into the country.
Under the current system, a person can wait up to 10 years before being able to apply for a pardon. Bill C-93 proposes to waive that waiting period, making those found guilty of simple possession of cannabis immediately eligible to apply for a pardon after serving their sentence.
The bill would also eliminate the $631 application fee. The applicant will have to show that he or she was found guilty of simple possession of cannabis, that this was the only crime on their record, and that the sentence was served.
Why is it important to provide a no-cost expedited process to the specific group of individuals targeted in this bill? This is about fairness. For Canadians convicted of simple possession of cannabis, having a criminal record for a relatively minor infraction can have major long-term consequences.
Those consequences are disproportionately severe considering that cannabis is now legal in Canada. Members of minority, ethnic and indigenous communities are overrepresented among those with criminal convictions for simple possession of cannabis. That can seriously hinder their ability to find work and succeed in their endeavours.
The measures proposed in Bill C-93 would open up better opportunities for them and other Canadians. They would not have to put their lives on hold for 10 years before they can apply for a pardon. They would not have to worry about the financial stress of saving up for the $631 application fee. Bill C-93 would do away with those fees.
Now that cannabis is legal in Canada, pardons should be accessible, affordable and available to anyone who has a criminal record just for simple possession. A pardon would help them reintegrate into their communities as productive, law-abiding and contributing members of society. This would also improve public safety for all Canadians.
I would also like to point out that a broader review of our pardon system is under way. Public Safety Canada and the Parole Board of Canada have held public consultations, and the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security published a report on the issue of pardons as part of a study initiated by the member for Saint John—Rothesay.
These measures are part of the efforts being made to ensure that our pardon system is fair and proportional and that it helps people who are not breaking the law reintegrate into society.
For all these reasons, I will be voting in favour of Bill C-93 at second reading, and I encourage my hon. colleagues to do the same.