The federal government has announced its plan to help people convicted of cannabis possession clear their record in the era of legal recreational pot, but what is being offered is inadequate.
Ottawa says anyone convicted before Oct. 17 of possessing less than 30 grams of cannabis – the amount it is now legal to carry – will be able to apply for a pardon in an expedited fashion, and they won’t have to pay the hefty fee of more than $600 normally associated with the process.
The pardon program will require legislation. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says he expects to table a bill before the end of the year.
The government should reconsider. Pardons aren’t the adequate remedy because while they remove convictions from police databases, they will still leave people with a record that can come to light during background checks.
The real harm of having a record – it can prevent people from working, renting an apartment or visiting another country – can’t be ignored by the government. Nor can Ottawa ignore the evidence that some past arrests for cannabis possession appear to have targeted black and Indigenous Canadians in a disproportionate way.
The better answer is expungement – a process that erases the crime and would allow people to live without the onus of a conviction for a minor cannabis offence in country where adults can use the drug with the government’s blessing.
The government legalized cannabis partly because it correctly observed that Canadian society had moved past the stigma once associated with the drug. The logical extension of that thinking is that the same society would see no reason to burden a person with a conviction from an outdated era – especially if it’s the sole conviction on that person’s record.
The fact that there appears to have been a racially tinged injustice in the way some possession arrests were made in the past only makes it more urgent that the government move to offer the option of expungement.
The Trudeau government shouldn’t deal in half-measures. It should offer people the opportunity to start fresh in the new era it has ushered in.