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Ontario man out of a job for a joint he smoked 33 years ago

Oct 25, 2022 | Media Partners, The GrowthOp

This post is presented by our media partner The Growth Op
View the original article here.

Chris O’Neill was 18 when the Trenton Police Service, which no longer exists, charged him with cannabis possession

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A 51-year-old Ontario man is out of a job after a 33-year-old cannabis possession charge prevented him from obtaining a security clearance.

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Chris O’Neill of Stittsville, Ont., told CBC, that he was 18 when the Trenton Police Service, which no longer exists, charged him with cannabis possession when he was caught smoking a joint. 

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O’Neill was working for a records management company that does business with the federal government when the charge resurfaced. 

  1. FILE - Cannabis items for sale are seen on October 16, 2018 in a Montreal cannabis store owned by the SQDC (Société québecoise du cannabis), a day before the October 17, 2018 legalization of cannabis in Canada. PHOTO BY MARTIN OUELLET-DIOTTE/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

    Cannabis expungement in Canada and the activists still fighting for it

  2. Ottawa had originally estimated that 10,000 Canadians “could be eligible for a record suspension for simple possession of cannabis.” / PHOTO BY LEKSANDR_KRAVTSOV / ISTOCK / GETTY IMAGES PLUS

    Almost two years on, only 395 people have been pardoned under program meant to clear weed possession records

  3. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee former Vice President Joe Biden delivers a speech at the William Hicks Anderson Community Center, on July 28, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. / PHOTO BY MARK MAKELA/GETTY IMAGES

    Joe Biden pardons federal cannabis offences, a decision impacting over 6,000 people in the U.S.

In the lead-up to legalization, the Liberal government had said as many as 250,000 Canadians may be eligible for pardons for past simple possession convictions, though other estimates put the number closer to 500,000.

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In 2019, the federal government passed a law, Bill C-93, that expedited the pardon process and waived the previous $631 application fee but two years after legalization, fewer than 400 people had successfully been pardoned for cannabis possession. 

O’Neill was not one of them as he is caught in a bureaucratic snag. According to CBC, his record mentions only possession of a narcotic in contravention of the Criminal Code, it doesn’t specify cannabis and the original court record no longer exists.

“I was told that their records are to be kept for 30 years, and unfortunately this happened to be 33 years ago, so my records have all been destroyed. Even the courthouse that I appeared in is no longer there,” O’Neill told CBC.

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O’Neill’s situation highlights why many activists have long called for cannabis expungement in Canada, rather than record suspensions. While C-93 sped up the process, it’s not automatic. Documents still need to be collected and filed and information needs to be obtained in the city where the conviction occurred, so in some cases, travel and related expenses are incurred.

A pardon also does not destroy the record, and the charges can be reinstated by subsequent government or a parole board and accessed by some police and government agencies.

With expungements, the record is destroyed and can never be reinstated.

“In my view, only full amnesty and expungement recognizes the disproportionate impact of Canada’s prohibition on visible minorities, and the fact that cannabis should never have been criminalized in the first place,” Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, a Liberal MP for Beaches-East York told The GrowthOp earlier this year.

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Erskine-Smith had supported a petition asking the federal government to grant expungements to Canadian convicted of cannabis offences.

That petition didn’t gain enough signatures to require a response from the government, but an NDP amendment to Bill C-5 could help improve the current “ineffective system,” NDP MP Randall Garrison told CBC.

“The people who really need the benefit of the expungement or sequestration of records are those who are the least likely to be able to manoeuvre their way through a bureaucratic process requiring legal assistance,” Garrison said.

He has proposed an amendment to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that would effectively hide cannabis records from criminal record checks after the federal government reportedly responded that automatic expungements would be too complicated.

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The sequestering of records would apply to all records of personal possession of drugs. The amendment is currently before the Senate and Garrison hopes it can be passed before Christmas.

“[The government] argued that’s the best they could do technically, and my goal was to make sure those practical impacts were removed for people,” Garrison said. “I was assured that it’ll have the same impact on people’s lives as a complete expungement of those records,” he added.

Earlier this month, U.S. President Joe Biden granteda full, complete, and unconditional pardon” to U.S. citizens with federal cannabis possession charges and called on governors to issue similar pardons regarding state marijuana offenses.

We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with feedback and story tips at thegrowthop@postmedia.com

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