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PM wraps cabinet retreat with hint of pot pardons to come - after legalization

Last Updated Jan 12, 2018 at 5:06 pm PDT

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau enters the room to address the media during his closing comments after attending the Liberal cabinet retreat in London, Ont., on Friday, January 12, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

LONDON, Ont. – Canadians convicted of simple marijuana possession will have to wait until recreational pot is legalized later this year before learning if they’ll be pardoned for something that will no longer be a crime.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ruled out Friday declaring an amnesty before the new law goes into effect in July.

“We recognize that anyone who is currently purchasing marijuana is participating in illegal activity that is funding criminal organizations and street gangs,” he told a news conference wrapping up a two-day cabinet retreat.

“And therefore we do not want to encourage in any way people to engage in that behaviour until the law is changed.”

Trudeau hinted that an amnesty could be declared once the law is enacted, although he did not specifically commit to one.

“Once the law is changed, we will, of course, reflect on fairness in a way that is responsible moving forward. I think certainly we know that the current legislation is hurting Canadians and criminalizing Canadians who perhaps shouldn’t be,” he said.

“But that is an engagement we will take once we have a legalized and controlled regime in place, not before.”

Earlier Friday, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said his department is analyzing all the legal ramifications of pardoning the thousands of Canadians who’ve been convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana — acquiring criminal records that can hurt their career prospects or prevent them from crossing the border.

Goodale said no decision has yet been made.

The legalization of recreational marijuana is one of the biggest ticket items on the Trudeau government’s agenda for 2018 as the ruling Liberals tick off as many of their 2015 election campaign promises as possible in preparation for the next election in 2019.

Government insiders have said the year will be focused primarily on “relentless implementation” of the Liberals’ central promise to invest in measures to grow the economy, create jobs and bolster the lot of middle-class Canadians.

“We laid out an ambitious plan for growth during the 2015 election campaign and that plan for real change for all Canadians is working,” Trudeau asserted Friday, noting that unemployment is at its lowest level since 1976 and that Canada last year boasted the best economic growth among G7 industrialized countries.

The Liberals are hoping that Canadians’ satisfaction with the state of the economy will trump criticism about other less favourable aspects of their record — particularly on the ethics front.

Just before Christmas, the federal ethics watchdog ruled that Trudeau violated four different sections of the Conflict of Interest Act when he and his family took vacations on the private Bahamian Island owned by the Aga Khan, billionaire philanthropist and spiritual leader of the world’s Ismaili Muslims.

Opposition parties, intent on keeping the ethics lapses front and centre in the new year, are calling for stricter rules and serious penalties for violating them.

On that score, Trudeau said Friday that he’s willing to consider beefing up the conflict of interest legislation.

“I’m always happy to take recommendations from experts, from various people like the outgoing commissioner or the incoming commissioner on how we can ensure that our institutions and the folks who protect and uphold our institutions continue to be doing the best things the best way for Canadians,” he said.

Conveniently, outgoing ethics commissioner Mary Dawson has said she believes public shaming is sufficient penalty for politicians who break ethics rules.

While the Liberals want to focus on the economy and the opposition parties on ethics, neither issue has generated much interest so far in Trudeau’s so-called cross-country “listening tour” to hear what Canadians outside the Ottawa bubble think.

But Trudeau said the fact he got few questions during the first three town halls this week about his government’s economic agenda is actually a positive sign.

“If there weren’t as many questions as there were in previous town halls I’ve done on the economy, I think it can be taken as a sign that we are on the right track.”