No-fee, expedited pardons are not enough

Thom argues for automatic expungement of simple possession of cannabis criminal records

I am proud of Canada for becoming only the second country in the world to legalize marijuana.

It was way too long in coming.

In 2002, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien had both the political and social licence to do it. A Conservative-controlled Senate committee, led by a Conservative, Pierre Claude Nolin, concluded marijuana was less harmful than alcohol and should be governed by the same kind of rules.

And, public opinion at the time was also in favour.

For some reason, Chrétien couldn’t pull the trigger.

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It goes back much further than that, though. In 1972, the Le Dain Commission—named after Supreme Court of Canada Justice Gerald Eric Le Dain, who chaired it—recommended decriminalization of simple possession and cultivation for personal use.

For some reason, Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau couldn’t pull the trigger.

It took a second Prime Minister Trudeau to get it done 45 years later.

It was the right thing to do in 1972. It was the right thing to do in 2002. And it was the right thing to do in 2018.

Bravo to Justin for living up to at least one election promise.

Unfortunately, they only got the legalization part right and completely botched the other important element legalization, taking care of the more than a quarter of a million Canadians who have criminal records for simple possession.


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Last week, Bill C-93 – “No-fee, Expedited Pardons for Simple Possession of Cannabis,” came into effect.

The law waives the $631 fee and the five-to-10 waiting period for pardons.

In the first place, that law should have been ready-to-go on the day pot became legal. Simple possession should not have been a crime for at least the last 45 years, if it ever should have been.

But, more importantly, a pardon, via an application process, simply doesn’t go far enough.

Pardons are all well and good, but they do not constitute an elimination of the record, merely a suspension.

Those lingering records may be available to law enforcement and border officials of other countries and could continue to negatively affect people.

And they disproportionately affect Indigenous persons and other marginalized Canadians.

Expungements, on the other hand, effectively erase the record.

That is what we need.

And they should be automatic.

As a nation, we have decided simple possession and the personal use of marijuana is not a crime. Therefore, the onus should be on the government to take action, not the individuals who were convicted under previous archaic and unnecessary legislation.

The NDP tabled a bill that would have done exactly that, but the Liberals ignored it. It’s kind of typical really, try to please everybody with a milk-toast compromise and end up pleasing nobody.

We have a federal election coming up. This is our chance to tell all the parties to just get it done, already.

There is no good reason for trying to sit on the fence on this issue.

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