Busted at 18, an Ontario man says he lost his career to Ottawa’s broken pot pardon process


Chris O’Neil of Stittsville, Ont., says he lost his job final week due to a 33-year-old conviction for possession of pot — the one legal conviction he’s ever had.

And he tells CBC News he’s getting no assist at all from the federal authorities’s process for suspending legal information for marijuana use.

The 51-year-old operations supervisor labored at a information administration firm that does enterprise with the federal authorities. Because of his conviction, he could not get the required safety clearance.

He was simply 18 years previous when he was caught smoking a joint by the Trenton Police Service — a police power that not exists.

After he lost a enterprise to the pandemic’s financial results, O’Neil mentioned, securing the job with the information administration firm appeared to him an indication that he was beginning “to bounce again out of that … the impact that that has in your thoughts to discover gainful employment, revered employment, with a great earnings.”

Now, he mentioned, he’s again at sq. one. “I’m a married father of three. I’ve a mortgage, automobile funds, mortgage funds like all people else. So you want to make a good wage, and to lose it cuts our family earnings in half.”

O’Neil mentioned he does not blame his employer — however he does blame the federal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

O’Neil is prevented from getting the document suspension promised by the Trudeau authorities due to a Catch-22 scenario that’s past his energy to repair.

Police, courthouse, information all gone

The Trudeau authorities restricted entry to document suspensions to those that can show they have been convicted of pot possession within the first place. But O’Neil’s document mentions solely possession of a narcotic in contravention of the Criminal Code.

“It does not say ‘pot,'” he mentioned.

O’Neil mentioned he tried to get his unique court docket document however was advised it not exists.

“I used to be advised that their information are to be saved for 30 years, and sadly this occurred to be 33 years in the past, so my information have all been destroyed,” he mentioned. “Even the courthouse that I appeared in is not there.”

The Trenton Police Service that arrested the teenage O’Neil not exists; it was changed years in the past by the Ontario Provincial Police.

WATCH: Ottawa guarantees pardons process

Ottawa strikes for quick, free pot pardons for Canadians

Ottawa launched new laws making it simpler for folks convicted of pot possession to obtain pardons. Officials says about 80,000 Canadians might be eligible to apply, but when they suppose that pardon will make it simpler to journey exterior Canada, they’d higher suppose once more.

“Their information have been destroyed and the onus is on me to show to them what they charged me with,” mentioned O’Nell. “They ought to know this.”

The pardon process introduced by the Trudeau authorities was supposed to be streamlined and straightforward to use. For O’Nell, it has proved to be something however.

“It takes a number of effort, solely to discover out that you do not get what you requested for, and you’ve got accomplished every thing that you simply have been requested to do,” he mentioned.

“It’s disappointing.”

Pardon program ‘very unsuccessful’: CCLA

Cases like O’Neil’s assist to clarify why the outcomes of the document suspension process have fallen so dismally in need of the federal government’s predictions.

Instead of the ten,000 functions the federal government anticipated, it has obtained solely 972 — and 335 of these have been rejected due to technical points like people who affected O’Nell.

“We had this selective, streamlined utility process for pot suspension,” mentioned Abby Deshman, director of the legal justice program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. “And it has been very unsuccessful.”

Critics say U.S. President Joe Biden’s method to pot pardons is more practical and fewer bureaucratic than Canada’s system. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

The poor uptake and excessive fail fee of the Canadian process have been thrown into stark reduction this month when U.S. President Joe Biden selected to take a special method. Biden ordered the federal authorities to proactively pardon all such convictions with out requiring functions.

The Biden administration took that method although pot stays unlawful underneath U.S. federal legislation — whereas in Canada, the federal authorities has legalized leisure pot use and income from its sale.

‘No complications, no pink tape’

Deshman mentioned Biden’s stripped-down method would have produced much better ends in Canada.

“There are increasingly employers, community-based organizations, volunteer managers, landlords which are asking for police document checks,” she mentioned.

“There are numerous tales we have heard in our work of people that cannot get jobs, who cannot volunteer of their youngsters’ faculties, who cannot cross the border, who’ve lost their trucker’s licence as a result of they cannot get a NEXUS move. It actually is extremely disruptive and an huge barrier to full participation in society.”

While folks can apply for pardons on their very own, the process is difficult sufficient to help a cottage business for authorized intermediaries who promise sooner processing for a worth.

O’Nell mentioned the Biden method, if utilized right here, would have saved his job.

“No complications, no pink tape. No having to soar by means of hoops. No having to show what you already know they did to you, as in my case,” he mentioned. “It’s simply going to be a push of a button and it is gone.

“Why is that not right here? Why do we’ve to battle for this?

“Eventually, I’m certain it is going to get there, the place every thing is gone and it is erased. But it is going to be a push and there is going to be collateral injury alongside the way in which. And I occur to be one in every of them … and I am unable to be the one particular person.”

NDP pitches modification to repair drawback

Relief does seem to be on the way in which within the type of an NDP modification to the federal government’s Bill C-5, which is now earlier than the Senate.

NDP MP Randall Garrison (Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke) tabled an modification that grew to become a part of the bill earlier than it cleared the House of Commons in June. He mentioned he was pushed to act by the poor outcomes coming from what he known as the “very, very ineffective system” created by the Trudeau authorities.

NDP MP Randall Garrison says he needed to amend the federal bill to permit for document expungement however was advised that method can be unworkable. (CBC)

He mentioned he was approached by a constituent who needed to volunteer on his kid’s softball staff however couldn’t due to a 15-year-old pot conviction.

“Even although the federal government mentioned there are low charges, once you speak to individuals who have accessed that process, most of them find yourself utilizing a lawyer and spending fairly some huge cash to try to get by means of that process,” he mentioned. “And many, many functions have been rejected on technicalities.”

Not everybody can afford to interact within the process, mentioned Garrison. “The individuals who really want the advantage of the expungement or sequestration of information are those that are the least probably to give you the chance to manoeuvre their means by means of a bureaucratic process requiring authorized help,” he mentioned.

Records to be hidden

Garrison mentioned he initially sought an modification that may permit for full expungement of pot information. The authorities mentioned that may be too difficult an method in a system the place information are held each federally and provincially.

Instead, he mentioned, the modification permits for sequestration of pot information — shielding them from legal document checks.

“Meaning that information for drug possession for all medicine won’t present up in legal document checks,” he mentioned.

“[The government] argued that is one of the best they might do technically, and my objective was to be sure these sensible impacts have been eliminated for folks. And so I used to be assured that it will have the identical impression on folks’s lives as an entire expungement of these information.”

For folks in O’Neil’s scenario, crucial side of Garrison’s sequestration modification is that it would not power him to show the existence of the unique possession cost. Sequestration, Garrison mentioned, would apply to “all information of non-public possession for medicine of every kind inside two years … after the completion of any sentence or group service.”

‘All for nothing’

Unfortunately, mentioned Garrison, there is no such thing as a treatment for the various people who find themselves unable to journey freely throughout the Canada-U.S. border due to previous pot convictions. 

“If you are already within the U.S. system, we have no skill to get your title out of their system,” he mentioned. “Going ahead, your title wouldn’t find yourself of their system.”

Garrison mentioned he hopes the Senate passes the amended bill earlier than Christmas.

O’Neil mentioned he’s simply glad {that a} resolution is within the works for “all people else on the market that is going by means of this ridiculous process.” 

But any change the federal government accepts at this level comes too late within the day for him.

“I imply, it actually is asinine and it is all for nothing,” he mentioned. “Because if this bill passes, why all the problems now? Why not simply get it over with and assist me out, you already know? You might have helped me save a job yesterday. A career.”


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