'Smallest of steps': Cannabis legal expert says pardon changes not enough
Lawyer Jack Lloyd calls Bill C-93 laudable effort that falls short
The Liberal government announced last week its plan to grant fast, free pardons to Canadians convicted of simple pot possession before the drug was legalized last fall.
Bill C-93, tabled in the House of Commons on Friday, amends the Criminal Records Act (CRA) and aims to break down barriers to employment, housing or travel for Canadians with a criminal record for pot.
It could become law this summer.
A cannabis legal expert says, however, it's the smallest move they could have made and there's still a long way to go.
Jack Lloyd, a Toronto-based lawyer specializing in these cases, offered his analysis to The Homestretch.
This interview has been edited and paraphrased for clarity and length. You can listen to the complete interview here.
Q: How does Bill C-93 work?
A: It amends the Criminal Records Act to waive the financial cost of seeking a pardon for this particular offence, which is a contravention of Section 4 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, in relation to cannabis.
Typically you would have to wait five to 10 years in order to seek a pardon, and it waives that, so you can do it right away. You still have to request it.
This is a laudable effort but many in the cannabis community feel it doesn't go far enough.
Q: The bill is limited to simple possession cases? What does that include?
A: It remains to be seen whether or not they are going to limit it to under 30 grams, less than one ounce of cannabis, that is what I suspect.
So it's simply summary conviction offences relating to cannabis. It is limited to offences that very rarely result in convictions, regardless.
But it's about 400,000 people who have this conviction and about 80,000 are eligible for this pardon program.
That is great. Any day the government says we are going to remove stigma from 80,000 essentially victims of the drug war, that is a great day.
But they could be doing a lot more to help this community, especially if they have now admitted that simple possession was a wrong-headed law to begin with.
I note that the NDP is quite rightly suggesting that expungement is the way to go.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale responded by saying expungements only happen when a law has been found to be unconstitutional.
That's rich as cannabis laws have been struck down as unconstitutional more times than any other piece of legislation, most recently in 2015 by the Supreme Court of Canada.
I would say it's high time for expungement, but streamlining the pardon process is a good first step.
Q: What is expungement?
A: It is a mandatory removal without the positive onus on a person to say, "Can I please get this pardon?" Instead, the government would simply remove them, they wouldn't exist anymore.
If they are saying that possession of under 30 grams is worthy of a pardon, they also ought to also target Section 5 of the act, trafficking, because anyone who has consumed cannabis has also committed that offence because it's a drug that is shared.
If you have passed a joint to another person, you have trafficked.
The government should look further and deeper into what they can pardon and expunge records for.
Q: How will pardons affect people's lives?
A: If someone has a conviction for simple possession, they will face difficulties finding work, difficulties during vulnerable sector searches if they want to work with children or vulnerable adults.
They might have trouble finding housing and with travel restrictions.
Q: How could it affect people who are serving time?
A: There are people in custody with serious charges relating to cannabis. That's the question here.
The Liberals were elected on the idea they were going to legalize this substance, but they never removed mandatory minimums for production and certain trafficking offences.
It's very questionable why they would keep mandatory minimum sentences and force people to go to court to challenge them, which has been done successfully in B.C. and Ontario.
But why do that? Lots of questions remain.
This is the smallest of steps the government could take. There is so much more they could be doing.
With files from The Homestretch