Canada ready to overturn possession convictions

Anyone with a cannabis possession conviction in Canada can now apply to have it overturned, free of charge.

The country’s federal justice minister yesterday declared that simple convictions could be put through fast-track pardons as part of Bill C-93 with immediate effect.

The landmark bill created a slew of new laws which allow people who were convicted of petty cannabis-related crimes to have their criminal records wiped clean.

Attorney General David Lametti said a conviction for possession of fewer than 30 grams of weed qualified for the free expedited service.

Prior to the new bill, a five to 10 year waiting period would have been in place following an application fee of $631 to begin the process of an overturn.

Announcing the move, the minister said: “Providing free immediate access to pardons will allow those with criminal records for simple possession of cannabis to move forward with their lives, making it easier to get a job, an education, rent an apartment or volunteer in the community.”

Lametti added that Bill C-93 – which was only put before the Canadian government five months ago – would have particular significance for “marginalised communities who have been disproportionately impacted by previous cannabis law enforcement”.

Issues

There are, however, still some issues to iron out with future incarnations of the bill. For instance, while it may wipe the convictions from the records of Canadians, those affected may still face problems crossing the US border if they were out of Canadian territory at the time of conviction.

US border agents will normally consult the Canadian criminal database when Canadians enter the US, but elements of the overturned conviction may still show up if, for instance, the person involved entered the US between the dates of arrest and conviction.

According to Montreal criminal lawyer Walid Hijazi, the effects of C-93 pardon were essentially confined to Canada.

“What a criminal record is, is an indication in the RCMP’s database,” he explained.

“Border control has access to that database. So if I’m pardoned, the information that I was convicted is supposed to be out of that database but if there’s other information on that arrest or let’s say I was arrested and went to the United States before being convicted, they put it in their own databases.

“You have to be careful because if you’re caught lying, they can ban you for life.”

Prior to Canada’s legalisation of cannabis in October 2018, simple possession could have resulted in six months’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $1,000.