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Requiem for expungement: A parliamentary post-mortem with Murray Rankin

NDP MP Murray Rankin wanted people's cannabis convictions to disappear from their criminal records. (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press files)

NDP MP Murray Rankin wanted people's cannabis convictions to disappear from their criminal records. (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press files)

Bill C-415, the private member's bill from NDP MP Murray Rankin that would have expunged the criminal records of Canadians convicted in the past of cannabis possession, died quietly in Parliament this week.

Rankin's bill was up against Liberal Bill C-93, which promises to mitigate the process of getting a government pardon for cannabis possession convictions. Rankin and his supporters argued that expungements are superior to pardons because they completely erase all traces of a criminal record and prevent that record from ever being reinstated.

"I wanted it to just be zapped from your record, then under the law you're deemed not to have been convicted, so you can say truthfully to that employer or that landlord or that soccer team that you want to coach, '(I'm) happy to say I do not have a criminal record,'" explained Rankin in an interview Friday.

Rankin's bill was defeated during a Wednesday vote by a margin of 225 to 61. All 34 NDP MPs present voted for Rankin's bill, and they had some support from other parties: 11 Conservative MPs also in favour of the bill, along with 9 members of the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party's Elizabeth May. (Detailed vote results can be viewed online.)

Almost every Liberal MP in the House of Commons on Wednesday voted against Rankin's bill, but four Liberals broke ranks with their party and voted for C-415. Rankin said he was grateful for the cross-party support for his late bill, especially from Liberals and Conservatives.

"I was delighted, and I've written each of those people a letter of thanks because I think it takes courage to stand up," he said.

"One suspects that the Liberals were whipped, because so many more of them told me before that my bill was absolutely right, and they were embarrassed with their bill and therefore they were going to support me."

The Liberal bill for cannabis possession pardons is still alive and well, but Rankin said he's not sure whether he'll support it.

"(Why) it's weak is, it will not allow a person to say, 'I don't have a criminal record for possession of cannabis,'" explained Rankin.

"If asked, they can say, 'My record has been suspended for cannabis,' which doesn't get you very far in the real world at all."

In Rankin's opinion, the Liberal approach to cannabis possession pardons might result in "what the lawyers call adverse effects discrimination — where you didn't intend, by your law, to be discriminatory, but the impact is adverse on certain people," especially black people and Indigenous people.

Rankin also questioned whether the Liberal bill will make it through Parliament before lawmakers break for the summer in June.

"It might get through, it's possible to get through, but the fact that they've left it so long after proclaiming possession of small quantities (of cannabis) legal in October, it shows you the priority they attach to this."

Rankin won't be running for parliament in his home riding of Victoria, B.C. in the coming federal election. He plans to return to his work as a lawyer, and said he's open to the possibility of practicing cannabis-related law.

"I haven't figured out what it would be, but I've certainly had the benefit of a big education on the whole field of cannabis because of being here and being a critic on (Bills) C-45 and C-46, and (having) been involved in this for many years," he said, noting that cannabis matters to lots of people in Victoria.

"It's an issue I care deeply about. I think prohibition has proven to be a disaster, and a useless waste of people's lives where people get records for something that I think is less dangerous, in some circumstances, than alcohol."


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