Opinion: The Federal government failed communities when the Cannabis Act did not include expungements

MP Murray Rankin proposed a Private Members’ Bill demanding to expunge records.

In the Fall 2019, the current Federal Government passed the Cannabis Act which legalized use of marijuana and up to 30 grams of possession. However many critics rightfully pointed out that the Cannabis Act a does little for those who have had their lives, families, and communities targeted by the “war on drugs.” The Cannabis Act did not expunge records and has left many marginalized communities by the wayside.

Which begs the question: what kind of Canada are we building if our laws do not address the social, racial, and economic injustices that our communities face?

Expungement means that records of those who were charged with a crime that no longer exists would be erased. Over 500,000 people in Canada are living with criminal records for the possession of under 30g of marijuana – an amount that is now legal [1].

Across Canada and right here in our neighbourhood of York Centre the Liberal promise to legalize marijuana  held many promises but its implementation was lackluster. The Federal government created and moved forward legislation without acknowledging and addressing the concerns of those people who have been and continue to be negatively impacted by the criminalization of marijuana.

Many were skeptical from the onset when MP Bill Blair was announced as lead of this file. As many remember, MP Blair was the former Chief of the Toronto Police Services (TPS) who was instrumental in the continued over-surveillance and over-criminalization of communities which led to disproportionate possession charging and arrests of racialized folks, particularly Black/African diasporic peoples. 

The Toronto Star article, “Toronto marijuana arrests reveal ‘startling’ racial divide”[2], outlines how the criminalization of marijuana has led to the disproportionate charges and arrests of Black/African diasporic and other racialized community members. The negative effects of marijuana criminalization on Black and racialized communities are widely accepted, however the Federal government did not prioritize this in the process of legalization.

Another issue of this is that the unrolling of the legalization of cannabis illustrates how the legislation did not seek to help those who were most affected by the criminalization of marijuana. Instead of the lives of those affected being at the heart of this legislation, the Federal Liberal government did very little to address the concerns of those who were the casualties of this drug policy. 

Now Toronto magazine wrote an article entitled: “The ex cops, politicians and friends of Bill Blair cashing in on legal weed”[3] – illustrating that the very people who pushed the over-criminalization and policing of drugs like marijuana are now profiting off of its legalization. This further reinforces what we already know; that profit, not justice, seems to be at the heart of the Cannabis Act. 

Legislating expungement would have righted the wrongs of poorly planned legislation and criminalization practices that have greatly impacted Black and other racialized communities.

It is elected officials’ duties to also right the historical and present-day wrongs.We must pass legislation that create the conditions for people to thrive rather than prioritizing profits over justice. Comprehensive policy would have justice at its core and the call for the expungement would be instrumental. Without expungement, individuals are bearing the brunt of being charged with crimes that are no longer crimes.

This is the kind of legislation what our communities deserve.

[1] https://www.cbc.ca/news/opinion/cannabis-convictions-1.4876783
[2] https://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2017/07/06/toronto-marijuana-arrests-reveal-startling-racial-divide.html [3]https://nowtoronto.com/news/cops-politicians-cashing-in-on-cannabis/