Hon. Joseph A. Day (Leader of the Senate Liberals):
Minister, welcome this afternoon. My question relates as well to the issue of Bill C-45 and surrounding issues relating to cannabis. I know that your mandate letter tasks you to “lead the legalization and strict regulation of cannabis across Canada,” with the support of your colleagues from the ministries of Health, Justice, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, there’s quite a team that has been working on this issue. This chamber worked very hard to bring that legislation through and did so successfully. While the government has announced its plans for a pardon process for those convicted of simple possession, it has not yet introduced legislation or regulations.
The legislation to legalize cannabis was drafted more than 18 months ago, but the legislation for pardons was not ready for the day of legalization, regretfully. Nor does it seem to be ready today. That is my question: When is the government going to introduce legislation for pardons or expungement of records for simple possession? Because the delay is using up a lot of the goodwill that has been developed by the government in relation to this initiative.
Bill Blair, P.C., C.O.M., M.P., Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction: Thank you very much for the question, senator. I think it’s an important issue to Canadians. Frankly, one of my prime motivations when we introduced this legislation is to have the opportunity to stop criminalizing another generation of our own kids. I always thought that was one of the most problematic aspects. We talked about reducing harm. We talked about reducing health harms and social harms, but one of the greatest social harms was the criminal records that so many young Canadians — and all Canadians — had experience with. So we knew that was an important opportunity with the repealing of this legislation. But at the same time, we also recognize that the proper way to change the law is through repealing what existed and replacing it with something more effective, and that’s exactly what we set out to do.
Had we acted sooner than the date of repealing of that legislation, we would have had the effect of nullifying the existing law.
You may recall that I made many public statements urging Canadians and making sure they knew that until the law was repealed and replaced, the law remained in effect and should be obeyed. Having reached the day of the law coming into effect, that was really the first opportunity to address those records.
The Minister of Public Safety, who is responsible for administering the pardon and record suspension system, has indicated his commitment to introduce legislation before the end of this calendar year in order to address the appropriate issue of pardons.
As we look into that, there’s a complexity that needs to be properly addressed. Most of the records are what we would call summary conviction offences, not indictable offences. The individuals with those records were not fingerprinted at the time of arrest. The records do not reside in a single national database but in fact are scattered across provincially administered and sometimes municipally administered databases across the country. So we are trying to resolve that complexity with this legislation, but we know Canadians are anxious we deal appropriately with this. I know those Canadians who have those records and have carried that burden are hopeful and anxious that we get on with it, and we’re proceeding with it as quickly as we can.