Keeping records of past criminal activity is a valuable tool in prosecuting criminals and maintaining public safety. In the interest of controlling access and preserving privacy, there are also rules in place governing who can see those records. It is common for police, the government, or even potential employers to view these records, but generally only under special circumstances. Recent legislation changes have also barred certain information from being obtained. For those dealing with the potential pitfalls of living with a criminal record, knowing what information is in their record and who has access to it is especially relevant, as are changes in pertinent legislation.
What information is in a criminal record?
The government of Canada maintains a criminal record file for all offenders. This file consists of all criminal charges, convictions, discharges, and fingerprints. When applying for everything from a job to international travel to volunteer work, and during the process of a record suspension, this is the file that will be consulted.
The two types of record checks
Canadian law mandates two distinct record checks. Depending on the particular situation, one may be subject to either type.
- Criminal record check – this is the basic check regarding your criminal history. This verifies that a person has a criminal record, and provides all the information that can be legally disclosed. This includes convictions and crimes.
- Vulnerable sector check – the Canadian government has laws in place to protect the most vulnerable members of society in certain sectors (e.g. positions that require working with children). This check will verify whether or not one has a criminal record, as well as any pardons for offences of a sexual nature.
Essentially, this means that police criminal record checks entail information about which crimes one was charged with, including their convictions, discharges, pardons and the nature of the crime if it is related to a vulnerable sector.
Recent changes to police background check laws
If you are living in the Province of Ontario, there is some important information regarding background checks that you need to know.
The Ontario provincial government recently passed the Police Record Checks Reform Act, which bars people from obtaining mental health records or records from random street checks. It also bars people from obtaining non-conviction records such as withdrawn or dismissed charges, acquittals, and non-criminal findings, except in a narrow set of circumstances related to vulnerable sectors.
If you are applying for a job, adoption, international travel, a name change, or volunteer work, then there is a good chance that you will have to undergo a police record check. The information that can be obtained during a police record check is mandated by the Canadian government but is usually limited only to the nature of your crime and convictions.
Regardless of the specific laws governing the information contained within your record, having a criminal record can make integrating back into society difficult in many ways, which is why many seek to improve their situation by obtaining a Canadian pardon.