Ex­perts re­veal how to clear crim­i­nal record

The Georgia Straight - - Cannabis -


n 2017, there were 13,768 peo­ple charged with mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion, ac­cord­ing to Statis­tics Canada. This num­ber has been on the de­cline for some time. There were 17,720 charges in 2016, 21,320 the year be­fore that, 24,535 in 2014, and 25,819 in 2013.

But even count­ing just the past five years, that’s still 103,000 peo­ple in Canada charged with a crime that won’t be a crime for much longer. And these charges can com­pli­cate job ap­pli­ca­tions and bor­der cross­ings, to name only the most ob­vi­ous sit­u­a­tions where a record check might oc­cur.

If you’re one of these peo­ple, you might view this sit­u­a­tion as un­fair and de­cide it’s time to clear your record of that joint you smoked so many years ago. What’s your first step?

Kirk Tou­saw, a lawyer and one of B.C.’S fore­most ex­perts on cannabis law, ad­vised against what would be most peo­ple’s first in­stinct.

“If you Google ‘records sus­pen­sions’ or ‘par­dons in Canada’, your first 20 hits are go­ing to be peo­ple try­ing to charge you an arm and a leg,” he ex­plained. “But if you just go to the Gov­ern­ment of Canada web­site that’s main­tained by the Pa­role Board of Canada, there’s good in­for­ma­tion there.”

You’ll find clear in­struc­tions there on how to ap­ply for a records sus­pen­sion (Canada’s of­fi­cial term for the mech­a­nism com­monly re­ferred to as a par­don). It’s a rel­a­tively straight­for­ward process with a fee of $631. “They even main­tain an eli­gi­bil­ity self-as­sess­ment tool and a video tu­to­rial,” Tou­saw added.

An­drew Ta­nen­baum, direc­tor of Par­dons Canada, sim­i­larly de­scribed the process as sim­ple but still rec­om­mended that peo­ple who can af­ford a lawyer pay for one to com­plete the process on their be­half.

“Do­ing it on your own is kind of like do­ing your own taxes,” he ex­plained. Pos­si­ble but not al­ways ad­vis­able. At Par­dons Canada, as­sis­tance ap­ply­ing for a records sus­pen­sion costs $675 (in ad­di­tion to the $631 that’s paid to the gov­ern­ment).

Al­though it takes money and a few months, Ta­nen­baum sug­gested that seek­ing a records sus­pen­sion for a cannabis of­fence is al­most al­ways worth it.

“As long as you have been out of trou­ble for a cer­tain pe­riod of time, you are go­ing to get it,” he said. “For a sum­mary of­fence—a smaller of­fence, like a drug-pos­ses­sion charge—you’ve had to [have] been out of trou­ble for five years. If it’s a more se­ri­ous of­fence, like a traf­fick­ing charge—that’s called an in­dictable of­fence—you’ve had to [have] been out of trou­ble for 10 years.”

While a straight­for­ward process, it comes with sig­nif­i­cant lim­i­ta­tions, cau­tioned Robert Mul­li­gan, a de­fence lawyer with the Vic­to­ria firm Mul­li­gan Tam Pear­son. A records sus­pen­sion clears one’s con­vic­tions from the RCMP’S Cana­dian Po­lice In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre (CPIC) data­base, he ex­plained, but not from other data­bases, such as those main­tained by the U.S. gov­ern­ment and its bor­der po­lice.

In 2018, it’s likely no longer pos­si­ble to en­tirely clear one’s dig­i­tal records of past le­gal trans­gres­sions, Mul­li­gan said.

“In the mod­ern world, when it is so easy to store, share, and ac­cess dig­i­tal records, there may al­ready be large data­base volumes that can con­tinue to cause harm well into the fu­ture.”

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