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It’s time to let Canadians move on after criminal pot convictions

The Standard by Kim Pate 13 November 2019


The first anniversary of cannabis legalization has come and gone — and at least 250,000 Canadians still have a criminal record for past cannabis possession.

This is in spite of Bill C-93, which was advertised as a quick way for these Canadians to have the record of their conviction suspended (that is, the record would be removed and kept separate from the main Canadian police database).

How has the bill performed? Since becoming law in June, it has resulted in a mere 44 record suspensions.

It’s hardly surprising — even the description of Bill C-93 as providing “no-cost, expedited record suspensions” is misleading. While it does waive the $631 application fee and wait time of up to 10 years, it still requires applicants to spend time and money having their fingerprints taken, obtaining RCMP record checks and locating original documents from record keepers in the jurisdiction where charges were originally laid.

In short, the bill represents another piecemeal attempt at record reform that has only created more bureaucracy for the Parole Board of Canada to manage with its already scarce resources.

Bolder change is needed for the entire record suspension process.

When the current $631 fee and additional requirements were added to the application process, the number of people seeking record suspensions decreased by 40 per cent. At the same time, the success rates for those who did receive record relief remained the same — more than 95 per cent were never criminalized again.

These data suggest we should be wary of onerous record suspension application processes. A crucial factor to successful community integration is having the means to support oneself. A criminal record is one of the most problematic barriers to people seeking employment, not to mention housing and educational opportunities.

What’s more, those marginalized by race, gender, class, health and ability are most likely to be left behind, further stigmatized and further punished.

They are often those most in need of a record suspension to pursue employment and a leg up and out of poverty, but least able to afford one.

Senator Kim Pate is a member of the Order of Canada and recipient of the Governor General’s Award.