Without expungement, people still carry cannabis records

News from the House

Algoma Manitoulin Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes
Algoma Manitoulin Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes
The legalization of cannabis in Canada is firmly in our rear-view mirror, but there are still issues that must be worked through.  One of significant importance is the fact that many Canadians still carry criminal records based on simple possession charges from their past.  While the government has implemented a system to grant record suspensions for individuals who carry these convictions, the truth is that isn’t enough for a number of important processes and especially at the American border. That’s why New Democrats have been pursuing record expungement for these individuals.  Sadly, the government has been reluctant to support the idea.

There has been plenty of time to get this right and the decision to only offer record suspensions for cannabis possession by way of an application process is not going to help Canadians who carry convictions that can hamper their day to day life. We know that record suspensions are not enough for the border where people are being denied entry into the United States for even admitting they have smoked marijuana in the past.  In addition to that, Canadians with decades-old possession convictions are being banned from the United States for life at border crossings. 

It’s important to remember that we are not talking about a few thousand people.  Official statistics tell us that 250,000 Canadians carry records for simple possession.  The government believes 100,000 of those will be eligible for record suspensions under the process they instituted, but record suspensions leave a trail that can be followed back to convictions.  Only expungement offers the kind of assistance these individuals need so they can move out of the shadow of their convictions.

In addition to the scope of these challenges, it should also be noted that possession charges affect a disproportionate number of racialized and other marginalized Canadians. For example, in Regina, Indigenous people were almost nine times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people. In Halifax, black people were five times more likely to get arrested for cannabis possession than white people.

That’s why it is critical to understand how the current process is flawed and how those who could benefit may not even seek assistance.  In addition to that, it requires people to apply for a record suspension and, even after receiving one, suspended records can be revoked and still have significant negative impacts on a person’s life. This can affect your ability to find housing, a job, or even volunteer for positions that require background checks such as coaching house-league hockey. 

Now that Canadians understand simple possession is not a crime, it is time to clear these records to be consistent and fair. New Democrats tabled a bill to do just that, but the government rejected it, despite their agreement that Indigenous and black Canadians were disproportionately affected and clear evidence that record suspensions are not enough. 

As it stands, the government is doing the bare minimum for people with criminal records and are proceeding with an application process they know to be ineffective.  While they did waive the fee, they could have gone much further which is why it’s a shame that the automatic expungement of all simple possession charges was never on their radar.