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Liberals face pressure to wipe pot records

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Ottawa wants to make it free and fast for Canadians to obtain criminal pardons for simple pot possession, but Public Safety minister Ralph Goodale made it clear yesterday the government does not support the push for conviction records to be destroyed outright.

Goodale said legislation is coming this fall to waive the fee and waiting period for Canadians seeking a pardon for possessing up to 30 grams of marijuana—an offence punishable with a fine of up to $1,000 and six months in jail.

Kevin Campbell of Bonnyville, Alta. said yesterday he hopes this will amount to a clean state, noting his only record blemish is a small pot possession charge from his younger years.

“It's kind of haunted me,” he said while lining up to be among the first to legally buy cannabis in Edmonton.

“I was waiting for the pardon because it costs about $700 to $1,200 to get a lawyer,” he noted.

“Now it's free.”

But Goodale explained yesterday the government won't wipe convictions off the books completely even now that recreational cannabis use is legal.

“We have utilized the tool of expungement in cases where there is a profound historical injustice that needed to be corrected,” Goodale told a news conference.

The federal government recently brought forward legislation to allow people to apply to have criminal convictions for consensual sexual activity between same-sex partners erased from the public record.

The measure was part of a broader apology to the LGBTQ community.

Cannabis laws, while outdated, were not “of the same nature,” Goodale noted.

The government recognizes that while a pardon doesn't erase a record, having one can make it easier to get a job, travel, and generally contribute to society.

A pardon, or record suspension, means the criminal record in question is kept strictly separate from other records and that it may be disclosed only in certain circumstances.

Expungement entails government acknowledgment that those convicted were subject to a historical injustice and their offence was an act that should have never been a crime or, if it occurred today, likely would be inconsistent with the Charter of Rights.

Currently, individuals are eligible to apply to the Parole Board of Canada for a record suspension for simple pot possession five years after completion of their sentence.

But the waiting period—and the $631 cost of applying for a suspension—have proven difficult for some people saddled with records.

Under the new plan, people could apply immediately if they have completed their sentence, Goodale said yesterday, noting legislation will be required to implement the new measures.

NDP justice critic Murray Rankin tabled a private member's bill earlier this month calling for the government to expunge records for possession of cannabis for recreational use.

Rankin said yesterday he is pleased the Liberals accepted the thrust of his idea, but is “very disappointed” that Goodale ruled out expungement of cannabis convictions.

“He claims there is no historical injustice,” Rankin said in a statement.

“I completely disagree. The disproportionate impacts felt by indigenous people and racialized communities represent a deep historical injustice and one that should be addressed immediately.”

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