TABLE OF CONTENTS
This document was made possible through the generous support of the Alberta Law Foundation. We appreciate the value the Foundation places on public legal education materials and we are grateful for their financial contribution.
We would also like to thank all those individuals who provided us with information, read drafts and helped us ensure accuracy. We couldn't have done it without you!
The purpose of this document is to provide individuals working in the criminal justice system with information about criminal records. It was necessary for a number of reasons:
In order to provide agencies with a solid understanding of the dimensions of criminal records, this document has been divided into four parts. Part one provides an overview of Canada's central criminal record system. Part two answers frequently asked questions regarding the accessibility, care, removal and impact of criminal records. Some of the information provided is the same for both adult and youth records; however, there are some significant differences. Part three looks at questions that relate directly to the criminal records of youth. The fourth part examines the legislation that governs the accessibility, care and removal of criminal records in Canada. Some legislation is intended to minimize the negative impact of having a criminal record, while other legislation authorizes the disclosure and sharing of criminal record information. A look at Canadian legislation gives us the opportunity to become familiar with the rights and responsibilities of the police, employers and individuals. Key terms are highlighted in bold text throughout the document and are defined in the Glossary.
This document is a summary of the law and regulations related to criminal records at the time of writing. Although we have tried to answer as many criminal record questions as possible, there are some that cannot be easily answered through a review of the legislation and policies. If you encounter questions that are not answered here, please refer to the list of contacts at the end of this document. Also, we are aware that there are sometimes errors in criminal record keeping. Should you become aware of a record that does not follow what we have indicated in this document, please advise us. We are interested in ensuring that this document remains accurate and also in tracking cases where the practice does not match the law or the regulations. Information on how to contact us is found at the end of this document.
POLICE CRIMINAL RECORD SYSTEMS
Creating Criminal Records
A record of individual criminal activity begins with an alleged offender's first contact with police. Local police create a file for their records, and if the charge is for an indictable or hybrid offence, they may send a copy of this information to the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC), managed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). CPIC creates a temporary file until further action is taken by the courts. This temporary file is only accessible to the charging police department, who can add to and review the information in it as the person proceeds through the criminal justice system. The temporary file contains information related to the alleged offence, the person's physical characteristics, date of birth, cautionary warnings (for example, violent') and depending on the offence, fingerprints. There is a hard copy of all documents, as well as a microfiche copy of the accused's file. If no further action is taken by the court after five years, the temporary file is destroyed. If the charge results in a conviction, CPIC enters the information contained in the temporary file to its automated criminal convictions records retrieval system,' which is essentially a computerized database that is accessible by police officers across Canada. Once a conviction has been entered on the CPIC system, police across Canada will have access to the same information that was contained in the temporary file, as well as the record of conviction and sentencing.
The names of persons who have been charged but never convicted cannot be accessed from the CPIC database, except in cases in which a discharge has been granted. Even though discharges are not considered convictions, records of discharged offences are maintained by CPIC for a limited time.
Only criminal record information concerning indictable and hybrid offences is held by CPIC. Local or provincial police reporting systems may contain various record information relating to summary offences and provincial statutes, such as highway and traffic information. Local police services have independent systems of tracking persons with whom they have come in contact. Information entered into a local police service's system cannot be accessed by another police service unless that information is also entered into the CPIC database.
The Canadian Police Information Centre
CPIC was set up in 1972 and is located at RCMP Headquarters in Ottawa. As mentioned above, CPIC maintains a computer-based information system that provides police officers across the nation with criminal record data that may be helpful in the arrest of suspects. Over 60,000 officers have access to the same information using computer terminals networked together and connected to the central system in Ottawa.
In addition to allowing officers from coast to coast to communicate almost instantaneously with one another, officers can access any one of the CPIC databases relating to:
The CPIC system also has access to the motor vehicle information systems in each province and territory. In addition, CPIC is connected to the United States National Crime Information Centre (NCIC). Through the Automated Canadian United States Police Information Exchange System, state police databases are connected to the CPIC system.
Information stored in local and provincial criminal records systems may or may not be found in the CPIC database. Since there is no legislation in place that requires local police to submit criminal information to CPIC (with the exception of the Young Offenders Act), the criminal records of the central system do not reflect the totality of records that exist.
ANSWERS TO FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Accessing Criminal Records
A number of law enforcement agencies have access to criminal record information through direct access to CPIC, including provincial and municipal police services. Other law enforcement agencies with limited powers under federal or provincial legislation also have complete access to a person's criminal record through CPIC. These agencies include:
Three levels of criminal record information are available through CPIC. The level requested depends on the detail required. Agencies with complete criminal record access can receive any one of the following three levels of information:
Full Criminal Record. Contains:
Criminal Record Synopsis. Contains personal information and conviction history only.
Criminal Name Index. Indicates only that a record may exist.
Yes. Under the Privacy Act of Canada, every individual has the right to request access to their own criminal record anytime. Requests can be made informally to the RCMP or local police, or the request can be made formally under the Privacy Act. If the request is made under the Privacy Act, the costs normally associated with fingerprinting will not apply.
When individuals request copies of their own criminal record from the RCMP, they will generally receive their full criminal record. This includes stays, acquittals, etc. However, individuals can also request a portion of their record, such as convictions only. If there are no convictions, the RCMP will provide the person with a letter stating this.
If an individual finds that there are inaccuracies and errors in his/her criminal record, the person can request corrections under the Privacy Act at the local police service. For more information on how to use the Privacy Act to access and correct criminal record information, call the Privacy Commissioner at the number listed on page 26 of this document.
Employers, community agencies and educational institutions can only obtain criminal record information if the individual consents. In Canada, no one can access another person's criminal record without the consent of the person to whom the record relates. This is one of the conditions related to third party access under Canadian law.
If an agency wishes to access criminal record information, they must inform the individual of the kind of criminal record information being sought. Some agencies may request that a Full Criminal Record be provided, but most request that only a Criminal Name Index search be done.
The criminal record release form must state the kinds of criminal record information the police service is being authorized to release. Consent to a records check is indicated by the individual's signing the form. The criminal record release form may also specify that the information be sent either directly to the agency requesting the check or that the individual pick up the record in person. For these reasons, it is important that individuals read the criminal record release form very carefully.
To see how agencies access an individual's criminal record, refer to Diagram 1.
- Steps to Accessing a Person's Criminal Record
The following is a list of positions for which a criminal record check may be done prior to the hiring or acceptance of an individual:
The cost of obtaining a criminal record check varies. Sometimes an agency will submit the criminal record check form on the individual's behalf and then ask the respective police service to invoice the agency. This is often done for the convenience of agencies who request numerous checks at one time. In other situations, the individual is responsible for covering the costs of having a criminal record check done.
In Alberta, most police services will charge $25 for a criminal record check obtained for employment reasons. In some areas, there is no fee associated with volunteer record checks, and where there is a fee, it is nominal (for example, $5).
In addition, the police charge $26.75 for fingerprinting. Potential employees or volunteers might be asked to submit their fingerprints to police if a criminal name index search has indicated that there may or may not be a record. In this case, the employer may ask the applicant to submit fingerprints so that the record can be confirmed.
Care and Removal of Criminal Records
Yes. Although a discharge is not considered a conviction, a record of an absolute or conditional discharge is kept by CPIC and by the charging police agency. The Criminal Records Act states that, except in exceptional circumstances:
When these specified time periods have passed, the automated CPIC database is purged of discharge records. Further, any hard copy documents, including fingerprints, are destroyed. In effect, once the purge date has passed, CPIC has no record of the discharged offence. However, a record of an offence for which an individual has received a conditional or absolute discharge remains in existence after the purge date has passed. Such records are archived in a special repository in Ottawa for five years after they have been purged from CPIC. The Criminal Records Act provides that in exceptional circumstances, when fingerprints of a discharged person have been found at the scene of a crime or in an attempt to discover the identity of a deceased or amnesic person, the name, date of birth and last known address of the person may be obtained, even if the discharge information has been purged from the database. This information is obtained from records kept in the special repository for criminal records in Ottawa.
In addition, if the discharge was given before July 24, 1992, a record of the offence may remain on CPIC and information may be obtained from the database in exceptional circumstances.
If a criminal record check is done before the purge date has passed, the check will indicate either that a record "may or may not exist" OR that it is "not cleared." If a full record is then requested, it will show that a discharge was given. Individuals who received a discharge before July 24, 1992, can have their record purged from the system by submitting their request in writing to the RCMP, whose address can be found at the end of this document. Discharges given before this date will be not removed automatically.
Yes. Withdrawn charges and stays will remain on the CPIC system and on the system of the charging police service. However, the information can be removed from CPIC under the following circumstances:
1) Individuals can ask the charging police service to have the stayed or withdrawn charge removed. This can be done for both violent or non-violent offences at any time after the charge was stayed or withdrawn. It is up to the charging police service whether they agree to make the written request to the RCMP to remove the information.
2) Charges relating to non-violent incidents will automatically be removed after five years if no further criminal activity has been recorded, even if no letter is written by the charging police service.
3) In cases where the withdrawn or stayed charges were for violent offences or where there were other additional charges that were not withdrawn or stayed, a record of the charges will remain on the system until the offender turns 70 if no letter is written requesting removal. If a criminal record check is done before a request for removal has been submitted, the check will indicate that a record "may or may not exist" OR the record will come back "not cleared."
No, a pardon does not erase a criminal record. Under the Criminal Records Act, all records of cases in which a pardon has been granted must be stored separately from other records. As a result, the National Parole Board (NPB) and the RCMP have developed procedures to deal with both hard copy criminal record files and criminal record information on the CPIC system.
Hard copies. When the NPB grants a pardon, it has 30 days to notify the RCMP's Pardon Unit. All hard copy information is removed from other criminal record files and shelved in the Pardon Unit's office, keeping them separate from other records. The NPB also notifies any federal department or agency that is in possession of the criminal record. In accordance with the Criminal Records Act, these departments must seal and separate pardoned criminal records from other records.
CPIC records. When the NPB grants a pardon, it has 30 days to notify the RCMP's Criminal Records Section. The Criminal Records Section moves all hard copy pardoned criminal record information to the Pardons Unit offices. The offices of the Pardons Unit are inaccessible to most users of the CPIC system. Information in the automated CPIC database concerning a pardon is moved to another area of the database which has restricted access and is available only to the Pardon Unit and the Criminal Records Section. The Pardon Unit has complete access to this area of CPIC, while the Criminal Records Section has limited access. When the pardoned record is moved to the restricted area on CPIC, Canada's police officers will be provided with no evidence that a criminal record existed. Further, there will be no indication that the person was pardoned.
Once a pardon has been granted, police officers will be provided with no evidence that a criminal record existed.
The length of time a criminal record is kept by CPIC varies. When an offence is entered into a person's CPIC criminal record, it is assigned an automatic purge date. Every month, a list is generated that provides the RCMP Criminal History Section with the entries that must be purged from the system.
The Criminal Records Act and RCMP Ministerial Directives determine the conditions under which records are purged from CPIC. See Table 1 for the 6 purging categories and conditions. For young offender purge categories and conditions, see Part III regarding the Care and Removal of youth records.
When the last entry in an individual's criminal record reaches its purge date, all information about that person is removed from the system. Hard copy documents kept by the RCMP, including fingerprints, are destroyed. The individual will no longer have a criminal record and there will be no indication on the CPIC system that a record existed. When a person's criminal record is purged by CPIC, they notify the police agency that contributed the record to CPIC of the purge. However, the contributing police agency does not have to remove the record from its system.
Categories and Criteria for Purging Adult Criminal Record Information from CPIC
The Impact of Having a Criminal Record
A criminal record does not impact the ability to travel within Canada; however, if a person wishes to travel outside of Canada, there are a number of considerations.
Every country has its own rules and practice about visitors with criminal records. It is recommended that people with criminal records who want to visit a foreign country contact that country's consulate or embassy to obtain information on each country's practice.
Some countries, like the United States, may require a person to get a travel waiver. Travel waivers are documents that allow persons with criminal records to travel to the United States. Waivers can be obtained at the Department of U.S. Immigration located in the Edmonton and Calgary International Airports or at any border crossing. The processing cost is $120 U.S. The waiver is good for five years. If there are questions about travel waivers, the U.S. Immigration Department can be contacted at both international airports (see contact numbers at the end of this document). It takes six to nine months to process a waiver.
Since the United States and some other foreign countries have access to the CPIC system, customs officials use the CPIC system to determine whether individuals have criminal records. If a person has a criminal record and/or travel waiver, U.S. Customs will enter the person's criminal record information into their own system - where it will stay indefinitely. If a person tries to enter the U.S. in the future, regardless of whether he or she has received a pardon, Customs officials will have the criminal record documented in their system.
Canadian pardons do not have legal force outside of Canada. The United States is not compelled to destroy their copy of the record when a Canadian pardons is granted. This means that if U.S. customs have previously entered a person's name into their own system, they would have that person's criminal record even though the record would no longer appear on CPIC. In such cases, people with a pardon may also wish to consider applying for a travel waiver.
There are numerous educational programs that may require a criminal record check before an applicant is accepted. For example, individuals with convictions related to fraud may be denied entry into an educational program related to bookkeeping or accounting. A criminal record may also be a detriment when applying to policing, corrections, or criminology programs. Many Universities require a criminal records check for professional programs such as dentistry, medicine and law.
Employers should only ask criminal record related questions if it directly impacts the job. Further, under the Criminal Records Act, federal government job applications cannot ask questions that could expose a conviction for which a pardon has been granted.
If an employer wishes to obtain information about a person's criminal record history, the question should be phrased: "Have you ever been convicted of an offence for which you have not received a pardon?" In this case the individual can answer "No." If the question is not asked in a manner that recognizes the possibility of a pardon, the individual can respond one of two ways:
YOUNG OFFENDER RECORDS
There are four types of youth records: youth court records, police records, government records and private records.
When young people appear in youth court, they receive what is called a youth court record. An offender's youth court record is kept by the youth court itself, a review board, or any other court dealing with matters related to the offence.
Youth court records differ from adult court records in a number of respects:
When a young person is charged with an offence, the police agency responsible for the investigation may keep a record relating to the young person's charge or alleged' offence information. If the charge was for a hybrid or indictable offence, the offence information, photographs and fingerprints contained in the record may be forwarded to the RCMP's central repository, CPIC. The information contained in the offender's record kept by CPIC may be accessed by certain individuals until the non-disclosure date has been reached.
Government records contain information gathered by a government agency or department and may be kept:
A private record is a record of any information obtained by any person or organization as a result of the use of alternative measures, or for the purpose of administering or participating in the administration of the disposition. Information such as the offence committed, the disposition given and personal information about the offender are examples of what might be contained in a private record.
Yes, once a charge has been laid, a record of the charge and whether there has been a finding of guilt is recorded, even if the charge is withdrawn or stayed or if the accused is acquitted or granted a discharge. However, these records are automatically removed from CPIC after certain periods of time (see the section on "Care and Removal of Youth Records").
Participation in the Alternative Measures program is recorded even though the youth may have charges against him dropped upon completion of the program. Participation in the Alternative Measures Program is registered either by the RCMP in CPIC or by the respective police agency for two years from the point the young person agrees to be in the program. After two years, the file is destroyed.
Accessing Youth Records
No one can access a youth record, except those authorized under the Young Offenders Act.
Under the Young Offenders Act there are strict limitations regarding who can access a youth record. Section 44.1 states that the following people can access a youth's record:
Anyone not authorized by the Act who wishes to access a youth's record must do so by bringing their request to youth court to be heard by a judge. For example, if a prospective employer wishes to access a youth's record, the employer must go before a youth court judge and show that he or she has a valid interest' in the contents of the record. The employer would need to prove that the youth's record would have an impact on his or her ability to perform duties related to the job.
The Young Offenders Act states that once a youth's criminal record has reached the non-disclosure period, no court, review board, police or government agency can disclose any information contained in that record. Under the Young Offenders Act, it is an offence to disclose youth records after they have reached the non-disclosure date. Illegally disclosing a youth's record carries a punishment of up to two years in prison.
A variety of youth record information can be accessed by authorized persons only. The Young Offenders Act provides the provinces with the authority to access and share young offender information among professionals.
In Alberta, the province used the Act develop the "Young Offender Information Sharing Protocol." The Protocol relates to sharing of information about young persons who have committed offences that threaten the safety of others, like arson, criminal negligence, or possession of explosives or firearms.
The Protocol permits youth workers responsible for gathering information for court ordered reports to share a number of matters about a young person, such as the:
Under the Protocol, information is provided to schools on a need to know basis only. Information not related to the school's concerns should not be disclosed. For example, even though a young person has an active criminal record, this does not mean it will be disclosed to the school. However, if the school has expressed concern over a youth's violent behaviour, relevant criminal record information could be released to the school. This information may then be used to monitor the youth's behaviour in school. Further, if the student transfers schools, that information must follow the student.
Schools, in turn, may provide the following information to youth workers and others responsible for preparing predisposition and other reports:
Where information is shared between a youth worker and the school, the Protocol and the Young Offenders Act state that the information must be kept in confidence, secure and separate from other student files. Both the Act and the Protocol limit the information shared to those who need to know. This helps to ensure that the young person's identity and rights are not unnecessarily compromised.
Care and Removal of Youth Records
Non-disclosure means that a youth's record cannot be provided to anyone unless the case meets the criteria below. Under the Young Offenders Act, a specified period of time must elapse before the record of an offence reaches non-disclosure. Table 2 provides the time periods for offences to reach non-disclosure. After the non-disclosure dates have been reached, the young person is deemed not to have committed an offence for summary conviction and indictable offences, and for offences that resulted in alternative measures or discharges.
Police records kept by the RCMP in CPIC are destroyed (deleted, shredded or otherwise physically destroyed) upon reaching the non-disclosure date. When a record has reached non-disclosure, CPIC should provide officers with no indication that a record ever existed. Each individual offence must reach non-disclosure before the record can be destroyed.
However, there are exceptions where the record information is not destroyed once it has reached non-disclosure. Records relating to serious offences are transferred from the CPIC data base to a special records repository. After transfer, there is no longer a record of the offence on CPIC. The following are some examples of serious offences for which records are kept in a special RCMP records repository for an indefinite period of time:
The complete list of offences for which records are kept can be found at the end of the Young Offenders Act.
Categories and Criteria for Non-disclosure of Youth Record Information from CPIC
This depends on whether the young person's record has reached non-disclosure.
If a young person re-offends before the non-disclosure period is reached, the time for non-disclosure of the first offence will be extended until the non-disclosure period for the new offence.If he or she is now an adult, the youth criminal record can be used in court. Further, the youth record can continue to be used until the youth charge reaches the non-disclosure period.
If the young person re-offends after the first offence(s) has reached non-disclosure, the record will remain in non-disclosure and cannot be used in either adult or youth court. If the youth criminal record reached non-disclosure, and the young person gets into trouble as an adult, the person will be treated as adult with no prior criminal record.
It depends. If the young person does not re-offend before the offence reaches non-disclosure, then the youth criminal record will be destroyed and a pardon will not be needed. However, if the young person reoffends before the non-disclosure time has elapsed and he or she is now an adult, a pardon will need to be obtained for offences contained in the youth and adult records.
The Impact of Having a Youth Record
Under the Young Offenders Act, there is a prohibition against disclosing any youth record to unauthorized individuals. This provision prohibits the disclosure of any youth record information where it could identify the young person. However, in instances where security clearance must be granted by the government of Canada, a province or municipality for purposes of employment, a youth's criminal record may be disclosed. Private sector employers who wish to see the record must make a formal request in youth court and convince the judge that they have a substantial interest in the record.
If an employer asks orally or in writing whether a youth has ever been convicted of an offence the young person can truthfully say no or decline to answer. Under the Young Offenders Act, young persons are not convicted of offences but, rather, are found guilty. Further, youth records are not public information and therefore no documentation should be made available to the public which could tie a youth with his or her criminal record.
However, some employers ask the youth to make the request to the police agency for the youth's record. Young people are able to access their own criminal record. When employers ask the young person to provide their own record (or proof of no record) "voluntarily," the youth is left with two choices. First, they can agree to provide their record. Or, they can refuse and withdraw their application for employment. While employers who proceed in this way are technically breaching the Young Offenders Act, it is a common practice, one which puts youth in a difficult position.
LEGISLATION RELATED TO CRIMINAL RECORDS
Canadian legislators have developed laws at both the federal and provincial levels that attempt to strike a balance between the public's right to know and an individual's right to privacy. There are a number of federal laws that relate specifically to the handling of criminal records. These laws define their accessibility, disclosure and disposal. There are four Acts in place to ensure the proper handling of criminal records. These Acts are safeguards for both the individual and for agencies who have the authority to maintain criminal records.
The Criminal Records Act, given Royal Assent in 1985, regulates a number of criminal record matters, including:
The Young Offenders Act is the only Act that sets out provisions for the maintenance and disclosure of youth records. Enacted in 1985, it has undergone a series of amendments. One of the most important amendments to the Act came in 1995, allowing for a greater degree of youth record sharing among professionals. This amendment led to the development of information sharing protocols in a number of provinces, including Alberta. The Young Offenders Act legislates the handling of youth records in a number of significant ways, including:
The Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act were both enacted in 1983. These Canadian laws set out strict limitations on the accessibility and disclosure of individual records, including criminal records.
More specifically, these laws deal with the accessibility of federal government information and protecting the privacy of individuals. Alberta enacted similar legislation in 1995. Like other provincial legislation of this kind, Alberta's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, relates to information held by provincial departments and agencies. The federal and provincial acts are significant in the care of criminal records for a number of important reasons.
The freedom of information and privacy acts try to balance two competing interests: public safety and the individual. While these laws have set up numerous provisions to protect a person's right to privacy, they also authorize law enforcement agencies to disclose the name and personal history of people considered dangerous for the purposes of public safety.
Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC): The central police repository where Canada's police agencies can access information on a number of police matters. CPIC is maintained by the RCMP and contains information relating to criminal records, property and missing persons. The centre is Canada's only national police networking computer system ensuring officers all across the country can access the same information. CPIC is also interfaced with the United States National Crime Information Centre.
Charging Police Agency: The police service that charged the person. This means that the information gathered by the charging police service is in their jurisdiction.
Criminal Name Index: One category of criminal record information, accessible on CPIC, that only indicates whether a record may or may not exist. This type of criminal record information is most often requested for employment and volunteer positions in community
Criminal Record Synopsis: One category of criminal record information, accessible on CPIC, that contains personal information and conviction history only.
Full Criminal Record: One category of criminal record information, accessible on CPIC, that contains personal information, conviction history and any other police related information.
National Crime Information Centre (NCIC): The United States equivalent to the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC). NCIC holds American police related information.
Non-disclosure: The period when any offence information relating to a young offender cannot be disclosed. Every offence has a specified time period that must elapse before it reaches the non-disclosure period. These time periods are described in the Young Offenders Act.
Purged Record: Purging a record means removing it from the CPIC system. Purging a file erases it completely from CPIC, providing no indication that a record ever existed. The Clemency and Pardons Division of the National Parole Board will notify the RCMP and all other federal agencies holding the record to purge it.
Third Party Access: In Canada, agencies who request access to criminal records must have the consent of the individual, in writing, before the police can release the criminal record information to the third party.
CONTACT NUMBERS FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Clemency and Pardons Division:
Canadian Criminal Record Information Services:
To obtain further information relating to criminal records or security checks, call your local police service or RCMP detachment.
Information Commissioner of Canada
Alberta's Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner:
Canadian Human Rights Commission:
Consulate or Embassy Offices:
To obtain a travel waiver for the U.S.:
Edmonton International Airport
John Howard Societies in Alberta:
1.Correctional Service of Canada. 1999. Basic Facts About Federal Corrections. Ottawa: Public Works and Government Services.
2.Privacy Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. P-21
3.Criminal Records Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-47
4.Young Offenders Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. Y-1