Pardons for Simple Possession of Cannabis Convictions

Backgrounder

Bill C-93 (An Act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis)

On March 1, 2019, the Government of Canada introduced Bill C-93 which proposes to allow Canadians who have been previously convicted only of simple cannabis possession to apply for a pardon (also known as a record suspension) with no application fee or wait period, once their sentence has been served.

Bill C-93 will reduce barriers to reintegration for these individuals by allowing them greater access to  job opportunities, educational programs, housing, and even the ability to simply volunteer in their communities.

Frequently Asked Questions and Answers:

Q.        What is simple possession?

A.        Simple possession generally refers to a criminal charge given by law enforcement for possession of a controlled substance, in this case cannabis, for personal use with no intent to traffic.

Q.        What is a pardon?

A.        A pardon (also known as a record suspension) allows people who were convicted of a criminal offence, but have completed their sentence and demonstrated that they are law-abiding citizens for a prescribed number of years, to have their criminal record kept separate and apart from other criminal records.

A pardon removes a person's criminal record from the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database. This means that a search of CPIC will not show that the individual has a criminal record or a pardon. This helps them access employment and educational opportunities and to reintegrate into society.

The Criminal Records Act (CRA) applies only to records kept by federal organizations, but most provincial and municipal criminal justice agencies also restrict access to their records once they are told that a pardon has been ordered.

Q.        What recourse does this legislation offer for individuals convicted of simple possession of cannabis?

A.        The proposed legislation would waive the pardon application wait period and application fees paid to the Parole Board of Canada for those whose only convictions are for simple possession of cannabis. The Parole Board of Canada will order the pardon provided the applicant only has convictions for simple possession of cannabis, has completed their sentence, and does not incur a new conviction prior to the pardon being ordered.

Q.        What is the difference between a pardon and an expungement?

A.        The purpose of a pardon is to reduce barriers to reintegration by facilitating access to job opportunities, educational programs, housing, and even the ability to simply volunteer in their communities. Suspended criminal records can only be disclosed by the Minister of Public Safety in exceptional circumstances, and would not normally be disclosed when a background check is conducted, such as for employment, housing, a passport or a loan.

Expungement is an extraordinary measure reserved for cases where the criminalization of the activity in question and the law never should have existed, such as in cases where it violated the Charter. If an application for expungement is approved, records of that conviction are permanently destroyed from federal databases.

Q.        Why are pardons for simple possession of cannabis not being granted automatically?

A.        An application-based system is the most effective way to ensure both broad access to pardons and informed decision-making. Requiring applicants to satisfy the Board that they were only convicted of simple possession of cannabis will help ensure that the Parole Board of Canada has complete and up to date information on the individual’s criminal history prior to processing the file.

Q.        What are the benefits of an individual being granted a pardon?

A.        Federally, a pardon sets aside all the criminal convictions for an individual, reducing barriers to reintegration placed on an individual as a result of their criminal record and allowing them greater access to job opportunities, educational programs, housing, and even the ability to simply volunteer in their communities. Suspended criminal records can only be disclosed by the Minister of Public Safety in exceptional circumstances, and would not normally be disclosed in a background check, such as for employment, housing, a passport or a loan.

Pardons apply only directly to records of convictions kept within federal departments and agencies, as per the Criminal Records Act. However, provinces and territories are notified when a pardon is ordered and generally comply.

Q.        How does a pardon impact an individual’s ability to travel?

A.        As with expungement, a pardon does not guarantee a person entry or visa privileges to another country because foreign jurisdictions are not bound by Canadian laws. Entry and exit requirements are at the discretion of each country.

Any foreign country, including the United States, may have documented previous interactions with Canadians, which may include Canadian criminal conviction information.

Individuals who receive a pardon may access requested records in cases where they need to prove that they have obtained a pardon.


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