While most penalties handed down for a criminal conviction are limited in their impact and duration, the criminal record of the conviction stays with you for life. And that criminal record can impact numerous elements of your life and future, including potential impediments to employment, higher education, travel, child custody, adoption, professional licensing, volunteer work, and immigration/residency status. With many low-level criminal convictions, the automatic generation of a criminal record proves to be harsher than the penalties imposed by the court.
To avoid the life-altering record that a criminal conviction creates, start by seeking the services of a skilled attorney who can work on getting the charges dropped, dismissed, discharged, reduced to non-criminal, or otherwise favourably settled. Mass Tsang lawyers have successfully defended thousands of Greater Toronto Area clients from criminal charges and can help you strategize an effective criminal defence.
To What Extent Are Criminal Records Public in Canada?
The records of all criminal convictions are permanently registered Canada-wide with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and managed and maintained by the Canadian Police Information Centre. This allows access by all Canadian police services, authorized agencies, and U.S. law enforcement. Public access is governed by the Police Record Checks Reform Act, which generally prohibits access unless the person of record provides written consent or the information is needed in the administration of laws regulating firearms and protecting children. That written consent may seem protective, though those with records often find that such authorization is necessary when applying for jobs, volunteering, or pursuing other interests.
Is a Criminal Record Truly Permanent?
While the Canadian Police Information Centre holds a criminal record until the offender turns 80, the Canadian government allows for record-sealing pardons on most offences. The Record Suspension (pardon) program allows those convicted of a summary offence to apply to the Parole Board of Canada for a pardon after five years, while those convicted of an indictable offence are eligible after 10 years. Once the Parole Board grants a pardon, the criminal record still exists, but access to it is sealed. Access to sealed records is restricted to certain legal agencies under specific legal circumstances, with public access only allowed when granted by an order by the federal public safety minister.
Know that many people convicted of criminal charges are sentenced with an absolute or conditional discharge, which automatically seals criminal records within a few years. Judges often allow the discharge for low-level and first-time offenders who do not represent a distinct future threat to society. Those with absolute or conditional discharges do not have to apply for a pardon and its record suspension. An absolute discharge automatically seals the criminal record after one year, and a conditional discharge automatically seals it after three years.
Sealing Your Record with a Pardon
To get your criminal record sealed, apply to the Parole Board of Canada for a record suspension. Remember that you can only make the application after the designated five- and10-year timeframes have passed for the respective indictable and summary offence convictions. Your application must include a processing fee of $50 and truthful completion of the application package and supporting materials. These supporting materials include:
- Criminal record(s)
- Court information
- Military Conduct information (if applicable)
- Local police records
- Identity documents
- Other forms, depending on the offence
Once you’ve submitted the application package, prepare to wait because it can take up to two years for the Parole Board to approve the record suspension.
Can a Criminal Record be Completely Removed by Expungement?
While expungement permanently destroys and removes a Canadian criminal record, it is only available to those with a criminal record that was produced by an unjust conviction. The Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act was enacted to clear the record of those whose unjust convictions would be considered lawful today. The vast majority of criminal offences eligible for expungement involve sexual crimes, and a couple of abortion-related violations. Criminal convictions eligible for expungement include:
- Gross indecency.
- Anal intercourse.
- Bawdy-house (keeping, being found in, or permitting a place to be used as such).
- Transporting individuals to a bawdy house.
- Indecent shows, acts, exhibitions, performances, nudity, etc., that take place in a bawdy house.
- Procuring the abortion or attempting to procure one for oneself or others.
- Providing the means to cause an abortion.
- Supplying or procuring a substance or instrument used for an abortion.
With the recent legalization of marijuana in Canada, many believe that convictions for cannabis-related crimes should be added to the expungement list. However, to date, the government only allows those who were convicted of simple cannabis possession to apply for a pardon under the Record Suspension program, with no waiting period or application fee.
Avoid a Criminal Record by Consulting with Toronto’s Mass Tsang
Instead of trying to seal a criminal record after the fact, the Greater Toronto Area lawyers of Mass Tsang recommend that you proactively avoid getting a criminal record altogether by mounting a vigorous criminal defence. Mass Tsang lawyers have an established history of strategizing the most favourable responses to criminal charges, with results that avoid or limit a criminal record due to acquittal, withdrawn or dismissed charges, negotiated plea deals for reduced charges, or a conditional or absolute discharge. To ensure that you have the most effective defence to successfully address your criminal charges, contact the highly experienced lawyers at Mass Tsang.