By Jeffrey Spiegel
If you have applied for a job, participated in a volunteer activity, rented an apartment, applied for an educational program, or tried to obtain a license to engage in a certain business or profession, it is likely you have been asked to provide a copy of your criminal record as part of the application process.
Criminal records are generally considered a record of crimes for which you have been convicted. However, these records are far more detailed than noting convictions. The Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC), which is a branch of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), is responsible for the administration of criminal record. CPIC records include information about your identity, charges against you, convictions, probation orders, fingerprints, DNA, etc. This information is entered in your record if you have been found guilty of committing a crime under Canadian federal law or have been judged not criminally responsible for an offence because of mental disorder.
Criminal records relating to convicted offences generally do not disappear with time—even if the records relate to minor crimes. They cannot be removed by pardon either, since pardons have effectively been replaced by record suspensions under Canadian law. A “record suspension” allows people who are convicted of a criminal offence, but have completed their sentence and demonstrated they are law-abiding citizens for a prescribed number of years, to have their criminal record kept separate and apart from other criminal records. The record, including fingerprints, photographs, RCMP reports, and court records are sealed, and never opened unless you are subsequently charged with a criminal offence. Under the Criminal Records Act, the Parole Board of Canada has the power to grant record suspensions. It is important to note that a record suspension does not permanently erase the conviction from your record.
An offence for which you receive a discharge can eventually disappear from your criminal record. Absolute discharges received on or after July 24, 1992 are automatically removed from your record one year after the sentence date. Conditional discharges received on or after July 24, 1992 are removed three years after the sentence date. An absolute and conditional discharge registered before July 24, 1992 remains on your criminal record unless you make a written request to have the record removed.
If you are asked to provide a criminal record check as part of one of the applications discussed above, it is common to wonder what information will be shared. Criminal record checks have various interchangeable names—criminal reference checks, criminal background checks, and police records checks. But they are most fittingly referred to as “police background checks”. The “background” terminology indicates that this type of check digs deeper beyond just your criminal record.
Police background checks often include any interaction you may have had with the police, or interactions that the police have become aware of for any reason. Such a check may include information about complaints made by, or about you, information about your mental health, information about pending charges and charges that resulted in an acquittal or other non-conviction disposition, and allegations of child or spousal abuse.
Police background checks, which are handled by local police forces, include a search of local records for any interactions with law enforcement, as well as a copy of your formal criminal record from CPIC. The local police force may also contact other police departments in Canada and the United States for the same information.
If you are charged with an offense but are not convicted, you have the right to request that your record relating to this charge be destroyed under the protections of section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
For more information regarding criminal records, police background checks, record suspensions, or any other criminal law matter, please contact our criminal law group at: http://www.devrylaw.ca/criminal-law/