Society today is obsessed with security. Every employee needs ID and a criminal record check. In today’s job market, a criminal record often means the difference between a paycheque and unemployment, because let’s face it: if the employer can choose between several qualified candidates, the one with the clean record will get the job.
If you are charged with a criminal offence, you have two options: you can resolve the case or go to trial. You will need answers to several questions to help you decide, such as: Will the Crown drop the charges? What will the sentence be if I plead guilty? Will I have to provide a DNA sample? Will I have to pay a Victim Fine Surcharge? Will this show up on a criminal record check? Will I have a criminal record?
Knowing whether the outcome of the case will show up on a criminal record check is an important question, and there is a lot of contradictory information out there. The bottom line is that each police force has some discretion to decide what goes into the police database, known as “CPIC” (Canadian Police Information Centre). Recently, there has been a lot of controversy about this, because more and more private information has ended up on this database, including past mental health issues. And because this database is accessible by Homeland Security in the US, people are getting turned away at the border because of information in their criminal record.
It will be important for you to know what will show up on a criminal record check after the case is over. The most consistent guideline is the one issued by the Association of Chiefs of Police of Ontario. It seeks to streamline the patchwork of different practices across the province.
The first issue is what type of record check is involved. There are three types of record checks:
- The basic check (known as a Police Criminal Record Check, or PCRC). This check is for people applying for routine volunteer work, or jobs such as retail, where a criminal record check is requested of the applicant.
- The enhanced check (known as the Police Information Check, or PIC) contains more detailed information, and is for people applying to work or volunteer for an organization where a criminal record check is required of the Applicant.
- The most comprehensive check is the Police Vulnerable Sector Check, or PVSC. This is for people applying to work or volunteer with vulnerable people, such as children, the elderly, or in sensitive sectors such as banking or health care.
The Police Criminal Record Check (PCRC)
This check will show convictions, and findings of guilt under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. For youth matters, the Act specifies how long the record is permitted to show up on this database (usually 1-5 years). Pending charges will not show up. An absolute discharge will not show up, nor will a conditional discharge. A peace bond will not show up. Charges that are withdrawn, dismissed or diverted will not show up.
The Police Information Check (PIC)
This check is for agencies that where a police check is required, not just requested. This check will capture more information about a person than the basic criminal check. In addition to the information revealed by the PCRC, the PIC will show absolute and conditional discharges, peace bonds, probation orders, pending charges and arrest warrants. Charges that are withdrawn, dismissed or diverted will not show up.
Police Vulnerable Sector Check, or PVSC
For people seeking to work or volunteer with vulnerable people or in sensitive sectors, the PVSC will reveal even more information about you. In addition to everything that will show up on a PCRC or the enhanced PIC, the vulnerable sector check will, in some circumstances, contain withdrawals and dismissals. Diverted charges will not show up, nor will mental health information.
Can I get my criminal record expunged?
The best way to remove information from the CPIC database is to apply to have your fingerprints and mugshot destroyed. This involves an application to the local police force that processed your charge, and the force will have a policy as to how and when you can do this.
If your charge was resolved by way of a discharge, your record will automatically be expunged in either 1 year (absolute discharge) or 3 years (conditional discharge). If you are convicted, the record will not be automatically expunged; you will have to apply for a “record suspension”, formerly called a “pardon”. There will be a waiting period of 5 or 10 years to apply, depending on whether your case was governed by an “indictable” or “summary conviction” procedure (your lawyer, or the Crown, can confirm which way the case proceeded, or you can order a copy of your court document, known as an “Information”, from the courthouse). The waiting period begins when your probation order expires (if you have a probation order).
In the meantime, if your criminal record contains incorrect information, or you think there is information that is improperly included, you can ask at the police station about the procedure to challenge or review the content of your record, just as you would with a bad credit score. In some cases, the police will make the requested changes. If they refuse, you might have to bring a motion in the Superior Court, which will be expensive and time-consuming.
The federal and provincial governments are reviewing their policies on criminal record checks and on pardons/suspensions. Hopefully we will see more clarity and more compassion in future when it comes to this issue. Because most people who have the misfortune of getting caught up in the criminal justice system are not bad people, they just made a mistake. Stigmatizing them, and denying them the ability to work or contribute to the community, is unfair. A balanced approach is the right- and Canadian- way to go.
Click here to see the Guideline for Police Record Checks, issued by the Association of Police Chiefs of Ontario.