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How to seal a criminal record

This article was shared with OMQ Law by Shella Gardezi from PardonServicesCanada. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of OMQ Law – although we do appreciate Shella Gardezi for sharing her perspective with us.

If you have been convicted of a criminal offence in Canada, you will want to put the past behind you as soon as possible. Pay off all your fines and finish any other conditions of your sentence as soon as you can. Within five or ten years you may be able to apply to seal your record. In Canada, a pardon is called a Record Suspension, but the term means almost the same thing.

What is a Record Suspension?

While many people believe a Record Suspension will “erase” their record, the reality is more complex. When a person receives a Record Suspension, the record is kept separate from other criminal records, but does not actually disappear. If the person were to reoffend, the Record Suspension could be revoked.

When you apply for a Record Suspension, the record will be removed from the database of CPIC (Canadian Police Information Centre). Many provincial and local police forces will also comply by removing the record from their databases.

There are limits to a Record Suspension. The most common frustration is that the United States government will not recognize it. If you want to travel to the United States, you will still need to apply through the country’s Department of Homeland Security and pay additional fees. (Some minor offences do not require the US Entry Waiver.)

Another potential issue is that in some cases employers are permitted to conduct a Vulnerable Sector police check on potential volunteers and employees. This can be common when working with children, people with disabilities or the elderly. In this case, a person who has committed sexual offences will be flagged even with a Record Suspension.

Thirdly, a Record Suspension will not remove prohibitions such as firearm or driving bans.

Why get a Record Suspension?

Despite the limitations of a Record Suspension, most applicants see immeasurable value.

Career: More companies are doing background checks. Criminal record checks can come up even in low-paid, entry-level jobs. They are very common in fields such as health, education, social work, finance, transportation, law and security. In some provinces, and in Crown Corporations and federal government services, it is prohibited to discriminate on the basis of a criminal record for which a pardon or Record Suspension has been granted.

Education: Educational institutions are becoming more job focused. This means they are offering placements at businesses and organizations. They are more likely to request a criminal record check when you apply. You could be prevented from attending or from taking part in career placements.

Self-esteem: As people get older past mistakes can start to seem like they belong to a different person. Establishing one’s life, having a family and developing status in the community are all signs that it is time to move forward once and for all. For many, a Record Suspension symbolizes change and growth.

Volunteering: Volunteering can be a path to a future career or just a way to meet new people and give back to the community. Parents often want to volunteer at their child’s school or with extra-curricular and sports activities. Many organizations require a background check.

Travel and immigration: A pardon will not help you visit the United States, but many other countries will consider it during a visa application process. It can also be helpful for those wanting to become a permanent resident or citizen of Canada.

Renting: Many landlords are also conducting background checks. A criminal record can make it hard to find a place to live, especially in areas with low vacancy rates such as Toronto and Vancouver.

Are you qualified?

There are two types of records that are ineligible for Record Suspensions:

  • Schedule 1 offences against a child with some limited exceptions;
  • Three or more indictable offences with each carrying a sentence of more than two years.

Otherwise, the primary issue for most people is the waiting period. One must complete all conditions of their sentence before the waiting period starts. This includes fines, probation, jail time, etc. It does not include prohibitions like drivers licence suspensions or firearm bans. During the waiting period, one must keep a clean record. The waiting period depends on whether the conviction was summary or indictable:

Summary – 5 years

Indictable – 10 years

Meeting these minimum requirements will not guarantee a successful application. The Parole Board will look at a variety of factors. The major factor is whether the applicant has been of good conduct. Any negative police contact such as domestic disturbances (regardless of whether charges are laid), traffic incidents (including tickets) or harassing conduct towards others could be raised.

One new requirement that was introduced in 2012 allows the Board to deny applications if it would “bring the administration of justice into disrepute.” This criteria can take into the seriousness of the offence and the impact on the victims.

What is the process to seal your criminal record?

You can choose to complete your own Record Suspension application or opt to have a service like Pardon Services Canada assist you. The Parole Board treats every application the same, so it is entirely up to you. Consider your budget, whether you feel you need the assistance and how much time you have to work on the application. The most complicated piece of the puzzle is obtaining the police and court checks. The Parole Board’s application guide will help you with this. If you opt to use a service they should obtain most of the documents on your behalf.

The application is available through the Parole Board of Canada and costs $631 to submit. In addition, you will likely need to pay additional fees to the courts and local police departments for record checks.

Although there are waiting periods, you do not have to wait the entire period to start collecting the court documents and other checks you might need to support your application. Many people are surprised by how long this can take. Remember that you will be dealing with public record departments that are often under-staffed and backlogged. Unfortunately, some people discover unpaid fines when they receive their court checks. This means they have to pay the fine and restart the waiting period.

You will also have to write a measurable benefit statement explaining the conviction and how the Record Suspension will benefit you (i.e. with employment, volunteering, being a good role model for your children, etc.)

Once you have gathered all of your documents and completed the application, you will send it off to the Parole Board with the payment. They will review it to determine if it is complete. Sometimes they will request more information before accepting it. After they accept it, the investigation process starts. This takes six months for summary convictions and 12 months for indictable.

At this point, the Parole Board will either grant the Record Suspension or propose to deny it. If they do propose to deny it, they will tell you why in a letter and give you a chance to respond.

The infographic below has been prepared by Pardon Services Canada to describe the process and the benefits of Record Suspensions.

Canadian Pardon Process

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