Issue: While the Government previously estimated 10,000 Canadians could be eligible for a record suspension for simple possession of cannabis. As of August 7, 2020, 467 applications have been received by the Parole Board of Canada (PBC), and 265 record suspensions have been ordered.
- A criminal record for the simple possession of cannabis can create barriers to accessing employment, housing and education programs.
- This is why we passed legislation in the last Parliament.
- On August 1, 2019, Bill C-93, An Act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis, came into force. This legislation waives record suspension application wait periods and application fees for those convicted only of simple possession of cannabis.
- Our government has delivered on our promise to work toward removing the stigma of a criminal record for people who have shown themselves to be law-abiding citizens. Removing this barrier allows these individuals to meaningfully participate in their communities, secure good and stable jobs and become fully contributing members of society.
- In the first year of the coming into force of Bill C-93, 265 record suspensions related to simple possession of cannabis have been ordered.
- The Government of Canada remains committed to ensuring that the entire record suspension program is fair, proportionate, and allows people who have demonstrated that they are law-abiding citizens to become fully contributing members of society.
If questioned on the low cannabis application approval rates:
- While the numbers may be lower than anticipated, this may be due to the fact that people with other criminal convictions, apart from simple possession, whether drug-related or not, are ineligible for the expedited process. Also, individuals may have already sought a pardon before the program was brought in.
- Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, PBC’s capacity to process record suspension applications, including those for cannabis record suspensions, was reduced, which resulted in delays in their processing.
- Recently, the PBC has returned to regular operations for the record suspension program. Less than 3% of record suspension applications that are pending processing are cannabis-related. The number of cannabis record suspension applications has declined since the beginning of the pandemic.
If questioned on the number of Canadians with a criminal record for simple possession of cannabis only:
- There are no definitive statistics available on the number of Canadians with only simple possession of cannabis convictions.
If questioned on why record suspension and not expungement:
- Expungement is intended for extraordinary circumstances where the criminalization of an activity was historically unjust, such as where a law violated the Charter. This is not the case for convictions for simple possession of cannabis. Record suspensions are the appropriate recourse for these convictions.
Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, received Royal Assent on June 21, 2018, and came into force on October 17, 2018. This Bill creates a process to regulate the production, distribution and possession of cannabis. Cannabis was previously an offence under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Since that time, there has been significant attention surrounding how to manage past convictions for minor cannabis related offences, largely calling for amnesty in the form of pardons or expungement of these offences.
The Government of Canada committed to making things fairer for those with convictions for simple possession of cannabis.
On October 17, 2018, the Government of Canada announced its plan to table legislation to allow those with convictions for simple possession of cannabis to apply for a pardon, with no fee attached, provided they had completed their sentence.
On August 1, 2019, Bill C-93, An Act to provide a no-cost expedited record suspension process for simple possession of cannabis, which received royal assent on June 21, 2019, came into force. The Act modifies the Criminal Records Act to waive record suspension application wait periods and application fees for those convicted only of simple possession of cannabis. The Act creates an administrative review process where the application is considered by a Parole Board of Canada (PBC) staff member as opposed to a discretionary review by PBC Board Members. The record suspension will be ordered so long as the individual can show that their only convictions are for simple possession of cannabis.
The Act also offers recourse for those with other convictions on individual’s record by ensuring that simple possession of cannabis convictions will not impact a person’s ability to obtain a record suspension. That is, simple possession of cannabis will not extend a pardon ineligibility period and will not be considered in reviewing good conduct or disrepute. Finally, the Act ensures that the inability to pay a fine associated with a conviction for simple possession of cannabis will not prevent someone from accessing a record suspension. There is no longer a requirement to pay these fines before applying.
The 2019-2020 Report to Parliament on the Parole Board of Canada Record Suspension Program outlined that the total number of record suspension applications received for simple possession of cannabis is much higher compared to the number of accepted applications. The report attributed this to a high percentage of applications received being either ineligible or incomplete. In the majority of these applications, the proof of substance is not included. The report outlined that the onus is on the applicant to provide all of the required information/documentation, including confirmation that the substance was cannabis, to benefit from this expedited, no-cost, record suspension.
On August 9, 2020, a CBC article criticized the number of pardons related to simple possession of cannabis that have been granted since Bill C-93 came into force. Link to article:https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/cannabis-record-suspension-pardon-pot-1.5678144
The article states that of 458 applications, 259 were accepted for consideration, with 257 granted and 2 discontinued. Another 194 applications were returned because the person was ineligible or the file was incomplete. The article also criticized the application process as cumbersome and complex, and outlines that Canadians continue to suffer barriers to housing, employment, and living a full and meaningful life due to the application process.
Criticisms around the use of a record suspension instead of expungement has been raised. Both pardons and expungement were carefully considered during the development of options leading to C-93, to ensure that the appropriate mechanism was being used.
Expungement has been limited to very specific circumstances where we are dealing with an activity that should never have been criminal in the first place. Criminalizing consensual same sex sexual activity was a historical injustice, and one that could reasonably be expected to violate the Charter if it were in place today. This is not the case with convictions for simple possession of cannabis.
Prepared by: Rachelle Goyette, Senior Policy Advisor 343-551- 6542
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