Federal NDP will table bill to grant amnesty to Canadians with cannabis possession records

Published in the Toronto Star on October 3, 2018

CALGARY—Murray Rankin, the federal NDP’s justice critic, will soon table a private member’s bill calling for the expungement of cannabis possession charges from Canadians’ criminal records.

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh made the announcement alongside the MP from Victoria, B.C., as well as Annamaria Enenajor, campaign director of the Campaign For Cannabis Amnesty, at Parliament Hill on Wednesday. He said the bill — if passed — would “delete the record for anyone that’s faced possession (charges) of a personal nature.” This would cover charges removed from the Criminal Code under the Cannabis Act.

“This is a day I’ve been working on literally since the 1970s,” Rankin said. “I believe that it’s critical that Canadians who have criminal records for something that — in two short weeks — will be perfectly legal should no longer suffer the burden of having a criminal record.”

It’s unclear exactly how many Canadians currently carry cannabis possession charges on their criminal records, but estimates suggest it could be as high as 500,000.

“These are Canadians who have been barred from employment of their choice, from volunteer opportunities, and from other opportunities where … a background check would have identified cannabis possession on their record,” said Enenajor.

She told reporters that these charges are detrimental to those who still have them — and that racialized, Indigenous, and marginalized Canadians are charged for cannabis possession disproportionately to the rest of the population.

“We think that is simply unfair and unjust,” she said.

Campaign For Cannabis Amnesty has reached out to officials in every level of government to see if they’d be willing to support the bill, Enenajor said, including the federal Liberals. While they tabled the legislation legalizing recreational cannabis in Canada, the Liberals have not said whether they’ll grant amnesty to Canadians with personal cannabis possession charges.

Scott Bardsley, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, said in a statement that the federal government will examine “how to make things fairer for Canadians who have been previously convicted for minor possession offences” after cannabis is legalized.

The statement said Canadians convicted of simple possession up to 30 grams can apply for a record suspension through the Parole Board of Canada five years after their sentence is completed.

Singh has in the past called for the decriminalization of all drugs, not just cannabis.

Rankin didn’t share details of the bill with reporters Wednesday, but said he’d discussed it “in principle” with the Liberals. And while he criticized them for not including provisions on amnesty in the Cannabis Act, he remained hopeful that they would follow through.

He doesn’t expect his bill would be debated in the House before Oct. 17. In fact, he doesn’t even feel the bill needs to be pushed through by him.

“I would love to hand it over to the government and say, ‘Take it. Work with it. You know you should have done it — many of you have said that — now let’s finish it,” Rankin said.

Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty is an Open Democracy Project Civic Campaign Accelerator participant. Website by DemocracyKit, created with NationBuilder.