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Fingerprints 101 – Process Updates, Policy Changes and What this Means for You

In Canada, individual fingerprints are used in conjunction with criminal convictions as the unique identifier that separates individual criminal records from one another. Each fingerprint is unique and distinguishable and allows the RCMP and local police departments the ability to identify individuals.

There may be many instances throughout a lifetime where a criminal background check may be required, and the fingerprint process is used to ensure the accuracy of these results.
Basic record checks, in Canada, simply use a full name and date of birth and disclose whether the record is “clear” or “not clear”. In turn, individuals who have the same name and date of birth as someone with a record will be associated with an unclear record during a background check.

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Therefore, fingerprints become an integral part of the arrest process and is essential for distinguishing individuals from one another before and after the conviction process.
Upon arrest, individuals are fingerprinted and the information is subsequently stored with the RCMP and local police. This tool minimizes any complications associated to individual records and ensures accuracy within this process for law enforcement.

However, it is not only those convicted of an offence who have their fingerprints on file. Individuals who have been arrested prior to a conviction may have their fingerprints on file as well. Regardless, even if no conviction ensues, fingerprints may still be on file and may result in a ‘not clear’ outcome on a record check.
Furthermore, when an individual would like to access their full record, for reasons including vulnerable sector screenings, pardons, U.S. waivers, Adoption, etc., fingerprints will need to be submitted to obtain a full criminal record.

Changes to fingerprints policies

Effective July 1st, 2014 there have been notable changes to the fingerprint process with the intention of creating a more accurate and efficient system for both law enforcement and the public. The transition has been to replace the traditional ink and paper fingerprint method to electronic fingerprints.
This ensures that identifying and matching fingerprints will be of the highest level of accuracy. Additionally, a reduction of time will be required for background and vulnerable sector screenings.

Police agencies and accredited firms responsible for fingerprints are converting to the LiveScan option. This uses a scanner to scan fingerprints and foregoes the ink and paper method and the paper consent form. All subsequent information is inputted electronically, included names and consent.
Therefore, since July 1st, 2014 only electronic fingerprints have been accepted from law enforcement. Agencies are also available that have the ability to convert paper fingerprints into electronic copies to be submitted.
The process of accessing one’s record via fingerprints requires a fee which varies across law enforcement agencies and accredited firms. The conversion from paper to electronic fingerprints also requires a fee.

The removal of fingerprints

Individuals who have fingerprints on file at local police stations and with the RCMP as a result of a criminal conviction will only have their fingerprints removed with a record suspension.
However, those who have not been convicted of a criminal offence, who still have their fingerprints on file may have to go through a separate process.
Although the majority of files are destroyed after approximately one to three years, if a conviction did not ensue, some fingerprint files are not removed. In these cases, individuals must request a purge from local police or the RCMP.

An individual may apply for a purge of their fingerprints if:
1) They are an adult
2) They do not have a criminal record
3) No outstanding warrants or charges
4) The offence was not a primary designated or secondary designated offence
5) All Peace Bonds have expired
6) The charge must have been withdrawn, acquitted, dismissed, quashed, discharged, or stayed

However, police do have the discretionary power to reject a purge request. They may do so if the offence is of primary or secondary designation or if there is compelling reasons to refuse destruction.