Alistair MacGregor Grills Justice Minister on Pot Pardons

Mr. Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, NDP): Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

Thank you, Minister, for appearing before this committee.

 

    I want to read out something from the Liberal platform of 2015: “Arresting and prosecuting these” —cannabis—“offenses is expensive for our criminal justice system. It traps too many Canadians in the criminal justice system for minor, non-violent offenses.”

 

    Minister, would you still agree with that statement?

 

Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould:   In terms of cannabis—

 

Mr. Alistair MacGregor:   The fact that arresting and prosecuting for these offences is expensive for the criminal justice system, that it ties up the criminal justice system. Would you agree with that statement from the Liberal platform from 2015?

 

Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould:    In terms of that being on the Liberal platform, this is why we have introduced Bill C-45 to legalize, strictly regulate, and restrict access to cannabis in order to keep it out of the hands of kids and the proceeds out of the hands of criminals. We have had much discussion about simply decriminalizing, but simply decriminalizing would not achieve those objectives. That is why we are working extremely hard, based on the input of the task force and working with the provinces and territories, to ensure we move forward and have a comprehensive regime that in the near future will assist us in achieving those objectives.

 

Mr. Alistair MacGregor:   Minister, I take that as a yes, a long yes.

    When I've spoken with police forces in local areas, such as the police from Victoria and Saanich on Vancouver Island, and asked them about why they're not enforcing marijuana possession offences, charging people for it, they say they have more important things to look at. But when you look at police forces across the country, it's a real patchwork quilt. In other words, the law is not being applied equally, and I don't think it lives up to the standards of a Canadian being a Canadian across this great land of ours.

 

    I'm wondering, with all the interim costs—and I understand you want to keep it out of the hands of children, but your government has admitted many times that it's easier for a teenager to get marijuana now on a street corner than it is to get alcohol or cigarettes. That's a fact. I'm simply wondering why your government feels it's still necessary to keep applying criminal law, which you have admitted is unjust, while we wait for legalization to come through. Surely it would be a good gesture to get rid of criminal records, which I think we can all admit do a lot of harm to people's lives in terms of their job prospects, their ability to travel, and so on.

 

    I'm wondering why you couldn't simply give directions to prosecutors, to police, across this country to make sure that instead of a patchwork quilt, we have equal application of law.

 

Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould:   On the latter question respecting criminal records, certainly the Prime Minister has indicated this is not within my domain but is something the Minister of Public Safety will ultimately be looking at with regard to criminal records.

    In terms of unequal application of the law, this is the nature of our federation. Again, I'll underscore that we are working in a collaborative manner with the provinces and territories. We have taken the time we deemed necessary to ensure that we got a substantive amount of input from public health experts, justice, law enforcement, plus the task force on cannabis, to help contribute toward the bill that we introduced to get to the place where we can legalize, strictly regulate, and restrict access to achieve the objectives that I've reiterated many times, keeping cannabis out of the hands of kids and the proceeds out of the hands of criminals.

 

    Until that time, until this piece of legislation receives royal assent, the law is the law and we expect local law enforcement officers to do their jobs.

 

 Mr. Alistair MacGregor:     Yes, Minister, but you just said in your statement that the unequal application of the law is the nature of our federation. Surely that is reason enough for the federal government in the interim to take the appropriate stance to make sure there is equal application of the law across this country.

    Again, why haven't you stepped in, as an interim measure, to do that? Surely it begs the question.

 

 

Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould:     I appreciate your great interest in this and wishing to achieve the objectives that you've very clearly articulated. I would look to you, and to all the members of this committee and all parliamentarians, to move this legislation as quickly as possible through Parliament so we can get to the place where we achieve the objectives and the purpose that's articulated.

 

Mr. Alistair MacGregor:     I think my time is getting close here. I think you said that the Prime Minister mentioned previously that pardons for criminal records for marijuana convictions might be on the table. He has stated there have been many situations in history when laws come in that overturn previous convictions, and a process for that will be set up in a responsible way.

    Can you outline to this committee exactly what kind of discussions you've had with the Prime Minister and your colleague, the Minister of Public Safety, and how some sort of a regime for pardons may come about for those who have previous convictions for possession of small amounts of cannabis?

 

Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould:     The Minister of Public Safety, the Minister of Health, and I are entirely focused on ensuring that we move Bill C-45 forward, doing everything we can to work with our counterparts in the provinces and territories to assist them in developing whatever regime they deem appropriate. Once we move this legislation forward we may change our focus, but right now this is the focus and this is the entirety of the conversations we've been having with respect to cannabis.

 

Mr. Alistair MacGregor:    Okay.