The federal government’s recently-proposed marijuana pardon legislation, Bill C-93, is already under fire. Last week the federal government proposed new legislation to pardon those Canadians previously convicted of simple cannabis possession. The government describes Bill C-93 as “An Act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis.”
The federal government has stated they would like to see the law passed by the summer of 2019.
The stated purpose of Bill C-93 is to break down barriers for those individuals particularly burdened by such convictions, such as people of certain socio-economic status, with a criminal record related to cannabis possession which has now been legalized. The concept behind the proposed legislation is to remove the stigma of such a criminal record and give individuals an opportunity to achieve greater access to employment, education, and housing.
Under the current pardon legislation, there is a fee of $631 and a lengthy wait period—Bill C-93 promises to waive those costs and wait times associated with the record suspension rules.
Mounting criticism regarding Bill C-93 focuses on the vast difference between a record suspension (the Canadian version of a pardon) and expungement. A record suspension removes an individual’s past conviction form the CPIC database, but it does not erase the record entirely. Expungement formally removes all records related to the offence in question. This is an important distinction. For example, in situations when a pardon is not recognized like at the border of another country, it could result in refusal of entry.
Some opponents of the proposed bill call it flawed and costly. Estimates from Ottawa indicate this bill could apply to as many as 400,000 Canadians although it is unknown how many will actually apply. Total costs for this bill with the processing of pardons could be in excess of $300 million.
While Bill C-93 was gaining momentum, another bill was introduced in the Senate by Independent Sen. Kim Pate with a different approach, not just a singular focus on cannabis, but encompassing all ex-offenders.
Her proposal is to attempt to rehabilitate and improve Canada’s pardon system as a whole. The most important parts would eliminate criminal records without the need for an application. Her catchphrase, “They’ve done their time; Let them move on from crime”.
The idea behind the Pate bill is that after an appropriate crime-free period has elapsed after the completion of a sentence, the criminal record would automatically expire. Very simply, if the person has not been convicted after a set period of time had elapsed since the end of their sentence and was not facing new charges, the criminal record would automatically be removed from the RCMP database. Several western countries have already implemented this kind of system. Given that 98 percent of persons granted a pardon never re-offend, automatic record expiry would save millions of dollars being currently spent on processing pardons.
Since the legalization of marijuana on October 17, 2018, the concept of restorative justice has been on the rise, not just here in Canada, but on a global scale. Regardless of whether you support Bill C-93 or Sen. Kim Pate’s attempt at improving Canada’s pardon system as a whole, the conversation is very real. Everyone deserves a fresh start, particularly when the offence is no longer considered a crime.