Pubdate: Wed, 26 Apr 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Authors: Patrick White and Michelle Zilio
Page: A13


NDP Leader criticizes Trudeau for the 'abject hypocrisy' over issue of
expunging marijuana-possession charges from criminal records

The federal NDP is accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of hypocrisy
for using an anecdote about his late brother to highlight equity gaps
in the country's current marijuana laws without making any commitment
to fix them.

On Monday, Mr. Trudeau recounted the story of how his father, former
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, pulled strings within the legal
community to expunge a marijuana-possession charge against his late
son Michel.

"We were confident that my little brother wasn't going to be saddled
with a criminal record for life," Mr. Trudeau said at a
town-hall-style event hosted by Vice Canada in Toronto.

"However, people from minority communities, marginalized communities,
without economic resources are not going to have that kind of option
to go through and clear their name in the justice system and that's
one of the fundamental unfairnesses of this current system."

But according to critics, the proposed marijuana legislation Mr.
Trudeau's government introduced earlier this month only serves to
exacerbate that inequity.

The bill would legalize marijuana possession for quantities of 30
grams or less, but offers no redress for Canadians who have been
charged or convicted of possession under the current

"You know, Mr. Trudeau admitted that he comes from a privileged
background where his own brother got off because his family was rich
and well-connected, that he admitted smoking marijuana while he was in
the Parliament of Canada and has suffered no consequences," NDP Leader
Tom Mulcair told reporters at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on

"And yet it doesn't bother him in the least that young people are
still being prosecuted today for smoking marijuana. … That's abject
hypocrisy by Justin Trudeau."

When a young man at the Vice event who said he's facing possession
charges challenged the Prime Minister to clarify his plans for those
prosecuted under existing laws, Mr. Trudeau offered vague assurances.

"We will start a process where we try and look at how we're going to
make things fairer for those folks and you," Mr. Trudeau said.

Last year, a C.D. Howe Institute report urged the government to pardon
everyone who's been convicted of marijuana possession but otherwise
carry a clear criminal record. The report's author said that even a
minor possession conviction severely limits a person's ability to work
and travel.

"If you have a criminal conviction, it automatically disqualifies you
from a number of positions," said Anindya Sen, the University of
Waterloo economics professor who penned the report.

"That's just economic waste. You have people on social assistance who
could otherwise be employed and contribute to the economy. If we are
going towards a regime where marijuana is legalized, why don't we just
go forward and relieve the system of a lot of economic waste now?"

Estimates vary on the number of people with simple possession
convictions in the country. Tens of thousands of Canadians have been
charged with marijuana possession every year since the 1970s. In 2015,
the most recent year for which figures are available, police reported
49,000 cannabis possession offences.

"We're looking at numbers in the hundreds of thousands and likely
approaching millions of convictions," said Ottawa criminal lawyer
Michael Spratt, who has long advocated for the expungement of records
for people found guilty of a crime that may soon be legal.

Currently, anyone convicted of marijuana possession can qualify for a
record suspension, but they have to wait five years from their
sentence completion date to apply.

A record suspension doesn't fully remove a criminal record or
guarantee a person ability to travel abroad.

But applying for a suspension requires time, organization and a
minimum of $631 to cover the application fee.

Mr. Spratt would like to see the government waive the fee and
prioritize the expungement of past convictions for simple possession.

"The Prime Minister's anecdote perfectly illustrated the hypocrisy of
the government's position," Mr. Spratt said. "When marijuana
convictions disproportionately affect the poor and marginalized, to
point out that his brother was able to escape those consequences due
to his status, and his father's status, shows the inequity that
existed and exposes the hypocrisy in not moving forward to rectify
that situation."
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