• Niche Canada

Righting the Wrongs of the Past

‘Do you have a criminal record?’ For the half a million Canadians convicted of cannabis possession-related offences, this question has devastating, lifelong consequences. It can have very serious social implications and affect their ability to get a job, travel abroad, volunteer, and get a mortgage.

As the country prepares for legalization, there is an important piece of unfinished business. The new Cannabis Act does not address the issue of clearing the criminal records of those convicted in the past of minor cannabis offences. And, the federal government is increasingly under pressure to right the wrongs of the past.

Over 17,000 Canadians were charged with cannabis possession in 2016 alone. Those convicted are disproportionately people of colour, Indigenous people and those living in poverty.

Officials also estimate that the cost of enforcing cannabis possession is more than a billion dollars a year. The arrests, charges and prosecutions have continued even as the country is proceeding with legalization. Many argue cannabis possession should have been decriminalized as the legislation moved its way through government, in order to spare Canadians and taxpayers the consequences of a law that is soon to be obsolete.

There is hope that the government will address the issue after recreational cannabis is legalized. The Prime Minister has stated that “once the law comes into force, we will start looking at the issue of pardons and criminal records.”

MP Bill Blair has stated that cannabis possession convictions are “out of proportion with the offence that we were trying to control. They are fine, upstanding, honest, decent citizens. And yet that criminal record has an impact on the quality of their life and on their opportunities.”

The government says that once the current law is repealed and replaced, amnesty may be on the table, arguing that pardoning these convictions before cannabis is legalized is premature.

At this point we have to rely on the Prime Minister’s word that the government will move forward in a thoughtful way to fix these historical injustices.

In the meantime, if you want to have your say on the issue, a petition has been set up. They are calling on the government to recognize that fairness and equality demand enacting legislation to delete records relating to minor cannabis-related convictions.

They are asking our government to act now and issue blanket pardons to all individuals for the offence of simple possession of cannabis. You can have your say by signing the petition.