C-93 : Simple Possession of Cannabis - Third Reading
Excerpt from Debates of the Senate (Hansard)
Wednesday, June 19, 2019
Bill to Provide No-cost, Expedited Record Suspensions for Simple Possession of Cannabis
Hon. Marty Deacon: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill C-93, an Act to provide no-cost,
expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis.
Let me begin, however, by saying I’m starting to enjoy this tradition. For me, there is no surer sign that
summer is around the corner than Senator Dean compelling us to pass legislation dealing with cannabis.
Colleagues, like last time, it is his thorough and well-reasoned arguments that are bringing me around in
my thinking. Though I voted in favour of Bill C-45, I started off with a great deal of apprehension. Of the many hats I have worn if my pre-Senate life, two of the most important were that of an educational leader and a coach of young people from playground to podium. Of the groups who not be touching cannabis, students and athletes rank pretty high on my list. I worried that legislation would normalize its use yet, as I listened to the debate, I realized our laws at the time were doing nothing to stem access to cannabis or limit its consumption. I came to the conclusion that the consequences we had in place were, in fact, more damaging than the substance itself, and that we try a different approach.
The bill we have before us today is a natural extension of this. When and if we pass this legislation, we will be undoing some of the damage created by old laws. As someone who worked —
The Hon. the Speaker: I’m sorry, Senator Deacon, I apologize for having to interrupt you, but it’s now 6 p.m. Pursuant to rule 3-3(1), I’m required to leave the chair unless there is agreement that we not see the clock. Is it agreed that we not see the clock, honourable senators?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Senator M. Deacon: As someone who worked extensively with youth, I know that even intelligent, thoughtful people can make impulsive, poorly thought out choices. I’ve done more locker, backfield and backpack searches than I care to count. Trust me when I tell you that 99 per cent of these cases where cannabis was found, these were good students and athletes who made a poor choice.
I would hate to think they can get held back because they were charged with a crime that no longer exists.
Moreover, colleagues, our old laws were not uniformly applied. As you were reminded at second reading, racial minorities bore of brunt of enforcement, burdening them further in a system that is already tilted against them. I won’t repeat all of what my colleagues said, but let me remind you of at least some of what researchers have found. One study showed that between 2015 and 2017, Indigenous people in Regina were nearly nine times more likely to get arrested for possession than White people. In Toronto, Black people with no criminal convictions were three times more likely to be arrested for possession. That, colleagues, is why initially I didn’t think this legislation went far enough.
I thought we ought to go further, to instead provide for record expungement. As we know, a pardon doesn’t necessarily wipe the slate clean. For instance, some employers do not ask if you have a criminal record, but instead ask if you pled guilty to a crime. Even with a record suspension, you would have to say yes, you have pled guilty. More often than not, this would mark the end of the hiring process for that individual.
I honestly wrestled with this for a while, but after personal reflection and thorough discussions with my colleagues, I have come around to supporting this legislation as written. I have a few reasons for this. As you are aware, expungements were created only a few years ago for a select group of Canadians. These were individuals who ran afoul of the discriminatory laws dealing with consensual same-sex activities. Like many of you, I have friends and loved ones who count themselves as part of the LGBTQ2 community. I recognize historical importance of granting these expungements. It says that these laws should never have been on the books in the first place.
I believe expungement should be reserved for cases like this. For when someone else’s rights were violated, it says to them they were never actually committing a crime. Possession of cannabis was and is a choice — being gay is not — and I’m not ready to equate laws against cannabis with something like the archaic buggery law.
There is also the message expungements could send to Canadians. I remind my colleagues that while Canada has legalized cannabis, we only did so in a strict set of circumstances. You will recall that the Senate sent back Bill C-45 with a number of amendments to clauses the majority of us deemed too harsh. The government rejected them. For instance, under current law, an 18-year-old could face up to 14 years in jail for passing a joint to their friend beside them who is 17, even if they are only months apart in age.
I believe the headliner reading “pot convictions expunged” could send the wrong message, that our current laws are more permissive than they actually are. There are still many ways to get a record for a cannabis offence today, and all Canadian must be mindful of this.
As Canadians become more comfortable with the legislation, I trust that laws will be loosened in time. They will get to a point where we scratch our heads, yes, we scratch our heads, that cannabis was ever illegal in the first place. We are not there yet.
On cannabis, the dial has moved but the pendulum has not swung entirely. That’s why incrementalism is necessary here. As Senator Deacon, the other Deacon, so aptly put it in second reading, perfection is the enemy of progress. This bill captures that sentiment.
I also note that while the government is only offering pardons, it is aiming to expedite the process in this case. The legislation would do away with both the application fee and the five- to ten-year waiting period typically required for a pardon.
At committee, the minister said that the parole board is looking to simplify the process further, to perform outreach via social media and other mediums to make Canadian aware that this is there for them and to get them started in the process.
That’s not to say that I’m thrilled with how the government approached this bill. We only received this legislation a few weeks ago. As I mentioned at the outset, we’re running on days in this session. Were it not for the tireless effort of the bill’s sponsor and the Legal Affairs Committee, we might not even have it here at third reading today.
With more time and thought, we could have had a chance to possibly add to and improve this bill, to make sure that the process of applying for a pardon was as seamless as possible. Perhaps even more middle ground between a pardon and an expungement that we could have explored. But I’m afraid an amendment at this stage would kill the bill. I would rather see Canadians be provided with at last some kind of avenue to clean up their past and move forward with their lives.
Colleagues, today, in the interests of its speedy passage, I’ll stop here. It is my intention to vote in favour of the bill before us. I encourage you to do so as well. Thank you.
Hon. Senators: Question.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
Some Hon. Senators: Agreed.
An Hon. Senator: On division.
(Motion agreed to and bill read third time and passed, on division.)