Without expungement, people still carry cannabis records | Pour éliminer les casiers judiciaires liés au cannabis, il faut radier les condamnations

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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.


Pour éliminer les casiers judiciaires liés au cannabis, il faut radier les condamnations

Il y a déjà un certain temps que le cannabis a été légalisé au Canada, mais certains problèmes demeurent. L’un des enjeux importants, c’est que de nombreux Canadiens ont encore un casier judiciaire lié à une condamnation pour possession simple de cannabis. Certes, le gouvernement a instauré un système de suspension du casier pour les personnes concernées, mais la suspension du casier ne suffit pas dans certaines situations importantes, particulièrement à la frontière canado-américaine. C’est pourquoi les néo-démocrates militent pour la radiation de ces condamnations, une idée que le gouvernement hésite malheureusement à appuyer.

Le gouvernement a déjà eu amplement de temps pour agir, mais il a décidé d’accorder la suspension du casier pour possession de cannabis seulement aux personnes qui en font la demande, un processus qui n’aidera pas celles qui, à cause de ces condamnations, sont confrontées à toutes sortes d’obstacles au quotidien. On sait qu’une suspension du casier ne suffit pas à la frontière, puisque des gens se voient refuser l’entrée aux États-Unis après avoir admis qu’ils ont déjà fumé de la marijuana par le passé. Des Canadiens reconnus coupables de possession de cannabis il y a des décennies se retrouvent bannis à vie des États-Unis.

Rappelons que ce problème ne touche pas seulement quelques milliers de personnes. Selon les statistiques officielles, 250 000 Canadiens ont un casier judiciaire pour simple possession. Le gouvernement croit que 100 000 d’entre eux seront admissibles aux suspensions des casiers selon le processus de demande prévu. Signalons toutefois que les suspensions des casiers laissent une trace qui permet de remonter jusqu’aux condamnations : seule la radiation permet de se libérer véritablement du spectre des anciennes condamnations.

Au-delà de l’ampleur de ces défis, il faut aussi savoir que les condamnations pour possession touchent un nombre disproportionné de Canadiens racialisés et marginalisés. À Regina, par exemple, les Autochtones étaient neuf fois plus susceptibles que les Blancs d’être arrêtés pour possession de cannabis. À Halifax, les personnes noires étaient cinq fois plus susceptibles que les Blancs d’être arrêtées pour possession de cannabis.

Voilà pourquoi il est essentiel de comprendre que le processus de suspension du casier actuel laisse à désirer et que les personnes qui pourraient s’en prévaloir risquent de ne pas le faire. Selon ce processus, les gens doivent présenter une demande de suspension de casier. Si leur demande est acceptée, la suspension peut tout de même être révoquée par la suite et avoir des incidences négatives. Elle peut empêcher une personne de trouver un logement ou un emploi, ou de faire une activité bénévole qui nécessite une vérification des antécédents, par exemple d’être entraîneur dans une ligue de hockey locale.

Les Canadiens comprennent maintenant que la simple possession de cannabis n’est pas un crime. Il est donc temps d’éliminer les casiers judiciaires liés à ces infractions, dans un esprit de cohérence et d’équité. Les néo-démocrates ont présenté un projet de loi à cet effet, mais le gouvernement l’a rejeté alors qu’il avait reconnu que ce problème touchait de façon disproportionnée les Canadiens autochtones et noirs, et que les données probantes montraient clairement que les suspensions des casiers ne suffisent pas.

À l’heure actuelle, le gouvernement fait le strict minimum pour aider les personnes qui ont un casier judiciaire. Il impose un processus de demande qu’il sait être inefficace. Certes, il a éliminé les frais associés à ces demandes, mais il aurait pu en faire beaucoup plus. C’est une honte que le gouvernement n’ait jamais envisagé comme solution la radiation automatique de toutes les condamnations pour possession simple.

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Carol is a three-term MP who has worked hard for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing since being elected in 2008. In addition to her role as MP, Carol serves as Assistant Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole in Canada’s 42nd Parliament. A tireless advocate for the communities she serves, Carol was a leading figure in the fight to preserve ten federal constituencies for Northern Ontario. She has been a prominent spokesperson for passenger rail service, preserving postal service outlets, and good jobs in the region. Carol has worked with First Nations on local and national issues and served as the New Democrat critic for First Nations Health prior to assuming the responsibilities of Assistant Deputy Speaker. With decades of labour experience, Carol understands the priorities of hardworking families. She has introduced legislation to expand access to Employment Insurance benefits and to require mandatory reporting of workplace accidents and occupational diseases. She has also worked with veterans on legislation that will create a Defence of Canada Medal to honour those who served domestically to protect Canada during the Cold War. Committed to serving all her constituents, Carol maintains full constituency offices in both Kapuskasing and Elliot Lake. She also holds regular clinics in communities throughout the riding. Before entering politics, Carol was a regional representative for the Canadian Labour Congress. Earlier, she worked for Probation and Parole Services in Elliot Lake and Youth Justice Services in Sudbury. A long-time community volunteer and activist, Carol lived in Elliot Lake for nearly three decades with her husband Kieth. And as a proud mother and grandmother, Carol is committed to building a better Canada for future generations.

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