Jillian Kestler-D’AmoursJuly 20, 2020

The authorities of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced Canada’s cannabis file sealing program with nice fanfare on Oct. 17, 2018. Thousands of Canadians are eligible. But solely 436 have utilized. (AdobeStock)

On October 17, 2018, hundreds of Canadians waited exterior cannabis outlets to lastly purchase the drug legally for the primary time within the nation’s historical past.

That identical day, whereas consideration was turned to the outlets, the Canadian authorities promised to undo a fantastic historic flawed: People convicted of single cannabis possession prior to now might apply to have these data suspended.

But practically a yr after Canada handed laws in August 2019 that permits individuals to use to have their cannabis data suspended, a particularly low variety of Canadians have utilized. Advocates say the system is failing.

According to the Parole Board of Canada, solely 436 purposes for cannabis file suspensions had been obtained on the federal degree as of April 3, 2020. Of these purposes, 238 suspensions had been ordered. Applications had been returned to 178 individuals resulting from ineligibility or incompleteness, and two purposes had been discontinued.

Canada’s cannabis file clearing program, stated Toronto-based legal professional Annamaria Enenajor, “has failed to achieve its goal.”

Widespread hurt

The criminalization of cannabis has disproportionately harmed Black, Indigenous and different individuals of color in Canada, stated Enenajor, who is additionally marketing campaign director of Cannabis Amnesty, an advocacy group that desires Ottawa to problem expungements for cannabis convictions.

Black individuals with no legal convictions had been 3 times extra more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession in Toronto than white individuals with related backgrounds, the Toronto Star reported in 2017.

Black, Indigenous and different racialized individuals had been additionally disproportionately arrested for cannabis possession in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Ottawa and Halifax, based on a 2018 VICE Canada investigation.

Enenajor stated cannabis convictions make it tougher for hundreds of racialized Canadians to entry jobs, schooling, and housing, or to volunteer of their communities, amongst different issues.

It’s a suspension, not expungement

When it involves eradicating previous cannabis convictions, phrases matter.

Canada’s program presents file suspensions however not authorized expungements. An expungement would erase a conviction solely.

In the present program, a profitable applicant could have their cannabis-related legal file “set apart from other criminal records in the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database,” based on the Canadian parole board website. “A record suspension helps individuals find work and educational opportunities and contribute to society without the barrier of a conviction for simple possession of cannabis. Individuals can apply even if they have unpaid fines or victim surcharges,” the positioning explains. “Individuals with only conviction(s) for simple possession of cannabis who have completed their sentence are eligible to apply.”

Expungments: just for specific circumstances

Canada has reserved expungements for criminalization that was “historically unjust,” Enenajor informed Leafly, equivalent to Canadians who had been criminalized for being homosexual—and authorities officers in Ottawa have stated that straightforward cannabis convictions don’t meet the identical standards.

“They’ve said the (cannabis) law itself was just and not discriminatory on its face, and it’s just the implementation of the law that was unjust,” Enenajor stated. “Whether that makes sense? No, I don’t think so.”

Still, Cannabis Amnesty continues to push for expungements, which not like pardons would utterly delete cannabis conviction data. The group additionally needs the federal government to make the method computerized “rather than burdening people with having to make the application.”

“We don’t think that the burden should be placed on individuals who continue to suffer for something that’s no longer illegal,” Enenajor stated.

Rough estimate: 250,000 convictions exist

The Parole Board of Canada says there aren’t any “definitive statistics” for the variety of individuals with easy cannabis possession convictions.

David Lametti, the federal justice minister, stated final yr that the federal government estimates that over 250,000 individuals have previous cannabis convictions, and that “thousands” can be eligible for the expedited pardon course of.

“This is particularly significant for marginalized communities in Canada, who have been disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of previous cannabis laws,” Lametti stated in a statement.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has additionally acknowledged the disproportionate hurt the criminalization of cannabis has had on racialized Canadians, calling it “one of the fundamental unfairnesses” of the earlier system. “It affects different people differently,” he said in 2017.

That yr, just below 40,000 Canadians had been charged with cannabis possession, according to the nationwide statistics company.

Why? Many tied up within the system

Why so few Canadians have utilized for cannabis pardons is unclear although.

The authorities says some individuals who might have been eligible have died, some might have already obtained a pardon, and a few produce other convictions on their data past easy cannabis possession.

“Individuals with simple possession of cannabis convictions might also have other convictions such as theft, or mischief, which would make them ineligible for a no-cost, cannabis record suspension,” stated a spokesman for the board, Mark Montreuil, in an e mail.

Kim Pate, a federal senator, additionally stated some authorities officers have argued the low variety of purposes stems from the truth that people don’t need to draw consideration to their previous conviction.

“It’s hard to know exactly why it’s low,” Pate informed Leafly. “To my mind though and in my humble opinion, it doesn’t excuse the government from actually taking a more robust to just ensure that those records are removed.”

Like Enenajor, Pate stated eradicating the bureaucratic burden and prices individuals should incur to make an software is key.

“To require that they actually apply for [record suspensions], rather than making it automatic, I think was a mistake,” she stated.

How to use

While Canada waived a C$645 (about $475 US) charge to use for a cannabis record suspension—and it expedited the normally months-long course of—candidates should nonetheless pay for the police or courtroom paperwork and fingerprints they should embody of their application.

In an e mail to Leafly, the Parole Board of Canada acknowledged “that costs may be incurred” to retrieve these paperwork. The common processing time earlier than April Three was 6.5 days, the board stated, however the COVID-19 pandemic has lowered its capability and delays at the moment are anticipated.

As it stands, the file suspensions apply to data saved on the federal degree, together with Canada’s federal police power (RCMP), and imply “that a search of the Canadian Police Information (CPIC) database will not show that the individual has a criminal record or a record suspension.”

The board stated most companies on the provincial and municipal ranges additionally limit entry to the data as soon as they’re suggested of a federal suspension order.

Mary-Liz Power, a spokeswoman for Canada’s division of public security, stated making candidates present documentation to show to the parole board that they had been solely convicted of easy cannabis possession helps make sure that info is correctly verified.

“An application-based system is the most effective way to ensure both broad access to pardons and informed decision-making,” Power stated in an e mail.

Moving ahead

But Enenajor stated it might be a lot easier for the federal government to search out the data in its system and delete them. “All over the US there are municipalities and states that are doing that,” she stated.

Quite a few US cities, together with Los Angeles and San Francisco, have expunged cannabis convictions en masse, aided by software program written by the non-profit group Code for America. In these cities, municipal officers did the work. The individuals affected didn’t have to use or undergo an arduous and dear course of.

Enenajor stated Cannabis Amnesty intends to ship a letter to Canada’s minister of justice demanding he assess the affect Canada’s cannabis laws has had on Black, Indigenous and different racialized communities.

She stated the present push for police and legal justice reform within the United States and Canada—sparked by the latest police killings of Black and Indigenous individuals in each nations—is a very good alternative to have a look at the results of Canada’s legal guidelines up to now.

“I don’t know how responsive the government is going to be,” Enenajor stated, “so we just have to keep pushing.”

Pate, the senator, has additionally drafted legislation that may permit legal data to be expunged (or “expire”) routinely after a set time has handed with none new convictions, and would remove the charges and software course of altogether.

But she stated that so far, Trudeau’s authorities has not agreed to tackle the invoice.

“The legislation is there, it’s ready to go,” Pate stated. “The obvious question is, why not? And why not now when there’s such a significant call for this sort of approach?”

Jillian Kestler-D'Amours's Bio Image

Jillian Kestler-D’Amours

Jillian Kestler-D’Amours is a contract journalist based mostly in Montreal, Canada. Her work focuses on human rights, immigration, and Canadian politics.

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