New Cannabis-Amnesty Bill Could Pardon 10,000 People, Ottawa Says

Article by Mike Hager and Tom Cardoso, Globe and Mail

New cannabis-amnesty bill could pardon 10,000 people, Ottawa says MIKE HAGER AND TOM CARDOSO

Ottawa estimates roughly 10,000 Canadians will apply to get free pardons for their cannabis-possession convictions if the government passes a bill that gives redress to those left with criminal records from the decades of prohibition of the drug.

Scott Bardsley, spokesman for the Public Safety Minister, said his department has extrapolated statistics from the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC), which handles drug-crime cases, and found upward of 250,000 convictions over the years for people caught having less than 30 grams of cannabis. But people in only about 4 per cent of those cases are expected to apply for the expedited pardons proposed under Bill C-93, which was tabled in the House of Commons two weeks ago.

Mr. Bardsley said most aren’t expected to apply for reasons that include: They have died, they have already received a pardon or they have other criminal charges on their record.

Mr. Bardsley said the department “made several assumptions” to peg the number of possible pardons at 10,000, which is considerably smaller than the 70,000 to 80,000 people Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair said earlier this month Canada could expect to apply.

“These estimates should be treated as a guess, not a definitive count,” Mr. Bardsley said late on Friday afternoon in an e-mailed statement. “There is no way to know how many people will be eligible and will apply before the policy is in place.”

Before the drug was legalized in October, possessing up to 30 grams of cannabis was punishable with a fine of up to $1,000 and six months in jail. Ottawa’s proposal is to do away with the five-year waiting period and $631 fee normally required to apply for a pardon. Critics say this relatively small number of people bolsters the case for expunging – not pardoning – these criminal convictions. They say expunging is a more just way to undo the harms imposed on tens of thousands of Canadians whose low-level cannabis crime has hurt their job and travel prospects.

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