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Bill to pardon Canadians convicted of simple pot possession coming by year s end

OTTAWA The federal government has announced that it intends to proceed with a plan to issue pardons to Canadians who have past simple possession charges, though it could be some time before those pardons are granted.

The Liberals intend to table additional legislation to "make things fairer" and remove the "stigma" of criminal records for those who have served their sentence, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced at a joint press conference with the main ministers involved on the cannabis file in Ottawa.

The legislation will be brought forward before the end of 2018, and then it still needs to wind its way through Parliament and become law, before the pardons of criminal records can be issued.

These pardons will be available to any Canadians who have criminal records for cases of possession of 30 grams or less, aligning with the new recreational legalized cannabis regime that came into force at midnight.

Under the new law, it is legal for adults in Canada to legally possess, grow, and use small amounts of recreational cannabis.

Once the sentence has been served, those eligible for the pardons will have access to an application immediately, with no waiting period or fee to apply. Goodale said the governments aim is to expedite the process as much as possible, though it will take time given the many jurisdictions that will have to be involved.

Goodale said hes hopeful for cooperation from the opposition parties in passing the legislation, but faced questions over why the federal government was not ready to table this bill today.

"It s a process," said Goodale. "As a general principle, removing the stigma of a criminal record for people who have served their sentence and then have shown themselves to be law-abiding citizens enhances public safety for all Canadians."

He said more details and information will be available in the weeks ahead.

NDP MP Murray Rankin tabled a private members bill earlier this month that pushed for the expungement of records of anyone who carries a criminal record for past minor, non-violent pot possession conviction; which is different than the pardon approach the government is taking.

An expungement would destroy or remove any record of a conviction, while a pardon is a forgiveness for a past conviction that seals the record but does not erase it, and can still pose issues at the border.

By his estimate, there are hundreds of thousands of Canadians who carry personal possession charges for marijuana.

Asked about pardons on his way into a caucus meeting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the evidence shows that minority and racialized groups are disproportionally represented among the people who face these possession charges. He said the pardons will make a real difference, and dismissed not moving on them sooner, saying it would have been irresponsible to talk about it before cannabis was legal.

Speaking about the forthcoming pardons, Conservative MP Tony Clement said hes got to see what exactly the government will propose in its bill, but he is supportive of having a process for people to apply for pardons, but would oppose any kind of blanket measure.
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