OTTAWA — When the Liberals introduced no-fee, expedited pardons for simple cannabis possession, the federal government estimated up to 250,000 people could be eligible.
Updated Parole Board of Canada (PBC) numbers show 436 pardon applications have been received as of April 3.
Of those applications, 238 have been approved for cannabis record suspensions.
The PBC said 178 applications were deemed ineligible or incomplete; 2 applications were discontinued; and 18 had not been accepted for processing at the time the numbers were reported.
Up until April 3, average processing time for pardon applications for simple cannabis possession was 6.5 days, but the COVID-19 pandemic has caused delays, the federal parole board said.
“The PBC currently has limited capacity to process record suspension applications, which will result in delays in their processing,” said spokesperson Iulia Pescarus Popa.
“It is not possible to estimate processing time for future applications given the current situation.”
Watch: Canada fast-tracking mass pardons for marijuana possession. Story continues below video.
Race-based data from record suspension applicants is not specifically collected, Pescarus Popa said, responding to a question about the availability of disaggregated data.
Annamaria Enenajor, director of the Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty, said the numbers reflect an “abject failure” of the government’s cannabis record suspension program.
The high rejection rates suggest people are not aware of what the eligibility criteria is, Enenajor told HuffPost Canada.
“The onus should be on the government to correct these records.”
Individuals seeking a record suspension for simple possession have to gather documents from police and the court system to complete their applications.
“The onus should be on the government to correct these records. There shouldn’t be an application requirement,” Enenajor said. “That would have made it so much easier.”
The appeal of a successful application is that it pulls the record of the conviction into a separate file that isn’t accessed through criminal record checks through the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) system — a database accessed by police and U.S. border agents.
Pardons do not erase records of the crime.
Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty has advocated for expungement, permanent deletion of the conviction from all databases, for convictions of simple possession.
Enenajor said prohibition-era convictions for simple cannabis possession are a major barrier that “prevents reintegration of people into society following a conviction.”
“Namely, it prevents them from being able to enter into the workforce in professions that they would like to,” the criminal defence lawyer said. “And often people with the convictions are already marginalized to begin with.”
A Vice News investigation reviewing cannabis arrest records between 2015-2017 showed Indigenous people were seven times more likely to be arrested for possession than white people in Vancouver; in Halifax, Black people were four times more likely to face arrest than people who are white.
The federal government introduced a new expedited version of its record suspension system to clear prohibition-era convictions after cannabis was legalized in 2018.
It came into force in June 2019. The government also eliminated the $631 pardon application fee and five-to-10 year waiting period.
Former NDP MP Murray Rankin tabled a private member’s bill in the last Parliament to create a process to expunge certain cannabis-related convictions in light of legalization.
It was defeated by Liberal and Conservative MPs at second reading.