Victoria MP calls on federal government to expunge criminal records for minor cannabis possession

NDP MP Murray Rankin asks a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill, Friday, Feb. 10, 2017 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

NDP MP Murray Rankin will table a piece of legislation in Ottawa on Thursday calling on criminal records for any Canadian carrying a charge for minor cannabis possession to be expunged.

The Victoria MP told Global News on Wednesday that the current rules unfairly punish people for committing a crime that will no longer be illegal after Oct. 17.

“I think the government of Canada, when they brought in their legalization of [the] cannabis bill, should have included, as California and other places did, the impact on people who already have a criminal record for what will be by definition no longer a crime after Oct. 17,” said Rankin. “People tell me they can’t coach their kids’ soccer team or chaperon a school trip all because they have criminal record for possession of a small level of cannabis.”
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The legislation targets the deletion of criminal records for anyone that faced minor, non-violent possession of cannabis of a personal nature. The federal government will make it legal for Canadians to possess and consume recreational marijuana on Oct. 17.

Rankin says it is hugely cumbersome and challenging for people to apply for pardons and it costs $631 to submit an application.

“My goal is to expunge records, that means they are deemed to have never occurred. The result is that you can truthfully say you have never had a criminal record,” said Rankin. “Possession crimes affects hundreds of thousands of British Columbians.”

Campaign director for Cannabis Amnesty, Annamaria Enenajor, appeared with Rankin at an event on Parliament Hill on Wednesday. The non-profit group is working to help Canadians with marijuana-related convictions.

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

“We believe these Canadians deserve a second chance.”

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The organization estimates that more than 500,000 Canadians live with charges for activities connected to marijuana use or possession. Rankin says disproportionately those convicted of marijuana offences are black or indigenous.

“This isn’t a law that applies equally across the country. I think it has a disproportionate impact,” Rankin said. “I think justice calls out to us to eliminate these records.”

Rankin adds he does not expect the bill to be debated in the House of Commons before Oct. 17.

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