A cross-Canada, mobile campaign calling for government to wipe clean minor cannabis convictions has hit the road again after making a first stop Friday in Vancouver.
The “Pardon Truck,” run by the Cannabis Amnesty campaign and licensed cannabis producer DOJA, parked outside the Vancouver Public Library where its small crew of petitioners geared up to collect 10,000 signatures to take to Ottawa.
They spoke with passersby near their ornately decorated “jam van” about their call for policy-makers to pass legislation that goes beyond pardons, and instead expunges simple possession convictions from criminal records.
Before legalization on Oct. 17 last year, people convicted of simple possession could face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. In 2016, 17,733 people were charged with cannabis possession, down 3,600 from 2015, according to Statistics Canada.
On March 1, Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale tabled Bill C-93 to provide no-cost, expedited pardons for simple possession (up to 30 grams) of cannabis. The bill scraps a $631 application fee and five-year waiting period for a pardon after conviction.
But NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and NDP MP Murray Rankin have repeatedly called for expungement instead of pardons for convictions on possession crimes that longer exist in law. Rankin’s Bill C-415 to establish a procedure for expungement, tabled last October, found the support of People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier.
The “Pardon Truck” people also believes Goodale’s bill doesn’t go far enough.
“We actually want an expungement, which is completely destroying the record,” said David Duarte, with DOJA. “This will never be brought up again and we can kind of help those people move forward with their lives.”
Duarte said the truck, which did a similar tour last fall, will also stop in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto. Organizers are also soliciting signatures at pardon.life and cannabisamnesty.ca.
Sarah Leamon, a Vancouver criminal defence lawyer, said that a pardon still considers a person culpable for committing an offence, but acknowledges that they have been reintegrated into society and “no longer need to have the label of criminal.” Police officers and border officials can still see the conviction on their record but employers or landlords will not find it during background checks, Leamon said.
“What an expungement says is you were convicted of this criminal act but you never should have been,” Leamon said. “You are not morally culpable for it, this never should have been a crime, we were wrong to have prosecuted it and it was an unjust conviction, essentially.”
Leamon said expungements are rare and most often used in historical prosecutions against LGBTQ people.
She has heard arguments that people fighting past simple possession charges knew they were breaking the law before legalization. Those convictions still carry a moral culpability, in some people’s minds, Leamon said.
On the other hand, some people have been saddled with criminal records for trying to access cannabis for medical purposes, she said.
“I do applaud the Liberal government for recognizing this as something that’s very important, this issue of pardons and amnesty,” she said.
“But I think that there are some arguments to be made that it doesn’t go far enough. I would personally like to see more cannabis-related convictions being eligible for this expedited pardon system, and I would also like them to consider expungements in some cases.”
Outside the library, many people stopped to ask about the truck and petition.
David Stewart, who works for an education company, said he supported the push for expungement.
“I work a job where I send people to go teach English overseas and I’ve had to turn great people away because they have just a minor criminal possession of marijuana (charge),” he said. “It’s long overdue.”
Stewart believes cannabis is relatively harmless, when compared to alcohol, and people shouldn’t be punished for using it.
“We all know that it’s a disproportionate amount of people that are affected that are people of colour, from our First Nations community, so I think to have expungement is just kind of righting the wrongs of the past with cannabis rules,” he said.
Thomas Jordan, who works in hospitality, said a pardon still leaves a person with a “monkey on their back” for life.
“If there’s still a record of what people have done in the past, people can still look it up — like our friends across the border — and cause inconvenience and nonsense,” he said.
“I think they need to just get rid of any record of any contact with the product, because it shouldn’t have been illegal to start with.”
With files from The Canadian Press and National Post
Full story is available here.