Canada Considers Bill That Would Erase Drug Offenses From Criminal Records
The plan would impact the 250,000 Canadians who currently have cannabis-based offenses on their record.
Published on July 6, 2022

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Canadian legislators are considering a bill that would automatically erase drug possession convictions after two years, the Toronto Star reported

Bill C-5 is meant to help correct deep-seated issues of racism in the country’s criminal justice system, which has filled Canadian jails with a prison population that is 30% Indigenous people, despite the Indigenous population composing only 5% of the population.

Black people are also imprisoned at disproportionate rates in Canada, where they make up 7% of the prison population and just 3% of the general population.

If it becomes law, Bill C-5 would impact the 250,000 Canadians who show a cannabis possession charge on their record, some four years after the country legalized recreational sales of the drug.

Getting drug-related criminal charges to disappear, even after those drugs are legalized, is an incredibly complicated process, according to North American law enforcement officials. Due to the way such crimes are entered into law enforcement systems, the question of how to remove them can take many years to resolve. In the United States, an organization called Code For America has assisted cities like San Francisco and Chicago to attain the elusive algorithm in question.

The “sequestration” of possession records two years after any criminal sentence has been served is just one aspect of the proposed bill. Bill C-5 would also eliminate minimum sentencing for all drug-related crimes and promote conditional sentences like house arrest over hard prison time.

In places like Ottawa, people with drug possession offenses on their record must pay a fee to apply to have the charges erased.

“The application process in and of itself is a barrier to people accessing those human rights protections,” said Samantha McAleese, a Carleton University PhD candidate whose work centers on how people’s lives can be impacted by their criminal record (see: getting a job or a place to live, or even traveling.)

Drug decriminalization is gaining popularity among Canadians. One 2017 poll showed that 70% of respondents were in favor of giving judges the leeway to give criminal sentences that were less harsh than mandatory minimums.

Bill C-5 was approved by the House of Commons last month and is currently on the Senate’s docket, where it is expected to be taken up in the fall session.

The proposed bill also has a measure in place to erase future drug possession charges from a person’s record two years after any criminal sentence has been served.

Amid a mounting overdose crisis in Canada similar to that which is sweeping the United States, at the beginning of June the British Columbia government announced that the possession of up to a cumulative 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA would be decriminalized. The province, which is also the site of North America’s first safe injection site, suffers from six deaths a day due to drug overdose.

Caitlin Donohue
Caitlin Donohue is a Bay Area-raised, Mexico City-based cannabis writer and author of She Represents: 44 Women Who Are Changing Politics and the World. Her weekly show Crónica on Radio Nopal explores Mexican marijuana culture and politics in the prohibition era. Follow Caitlin on IG @byrdwatch.
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