02 Oct How Long Does a Criminal Record Last in Canada?
According to the data, approximately 3.3 million Canadians have a criminal record, but many of those people don’t understand what a criminal record is, and what that means for them for the future.
Canada has long been considered one of the more fortunate countries in the world for people to reside, because of the opportunities for growth and success for both immigrants and citizens. Canada’s desire for success even includes many chances for law-abiding citizens to avoid criminal records; however, once you have crossed that line, and have earned a criminal record, life will feel a lot different.
In this article, we will discuss what a criminal record is, the difference between youth records and adult records, how long criminal records last in Canada, and what you can do if you have received a criminal record and want to be pardoned.
What is a Criminal Record?
While it seems like defining what a criminal record is should be easy, there is not a simple answer. According to the CCLA, there are three different categories of police records and all three types can be disclosed on a criminal record check. The three groups include conviction, non-conviction: finding of guilt, and non-conviction: no finding of guilt. Here is a little more information about what each of these categories means.
After a person is found guilty of a crime, they will either receive a sentence or discharge. A person will be considered to have a criminal conviction if they have any of these sentences:
- A term of imprisonment requiring them to serve time in prison.
- Any fines or forfeitures requiring them to give up something for their wrongdoings.
- Conditional sentences, requiring them to serve their time in the community, or
- Suspended sentences with probation.
Criminal conviction records will stay with a person for most, or all of their life, unless they apply for and receive a record suspension, or pardon.
Non-Conviction: Finding of Guilt
If a person is found guilty or pleads guilty, they may receive an absolute or conditional charge, but it is not a criminal conviction.
While individuals who receive an absolute or conditional charge are unable to apply for a pardon, the Criminal Records Act requires absolute charges sealed after one year, and conditional charges sealed after three years.
After receiving a discharge, a person may believe they will not have a criminal record of their convictions, but that is not entirely accurate. The fact that a person received a discharge is disclosed on basic criminal checks, especially during that period after having received an absolute or conditional charge. It is important for these individuals to double check and find out if they have a criminal record at least once after their charges should be sealed.
Non-Conviction: No Finding of Guilt
There are situations where police records are generated with policing duties or criminal court proceedings, but where no charges were assessed. Even though there was no finding of guilt and no criminal conviction, they can still appear on police record checks. Here are some examples of interactions that can result in a non-conviction record:
- Police contact and surveillance.
- Mental health apprehension.
- Charges were withdrawn from The Crown Attorney.
- Acquittals at trial, or
- Stays of proceedings
While these situations occur for many different reasons and ultimately show that there was no finding of guilt, individuals sometimes find that these cases show up on a police record check.
Youth Records and Adult Records
Canada takes the age of the offender seriously. There is a big difference between a minor being charged and convicted of criminal acts versus adults who have committed the same crimes.
Believing that young adults need a more lenient stance in many cases, a minor who commits a crime and goes on to have no criminal offenses as an adult will have their record of offence automatically sealed after the applicable waiting period, and will not need to request a pardon.
On the other hand, if a person commits a crime as a youth and then commits a crime as an adult before the time periods have passed, they will need to submit a pardon request for both the adult crimes and the youth convictions.
Young people can receive absolute and conditional charges just like adults, but there are some differences for summary and indictable offenses, findings of guilt not-entered, non-convictions, and expired criminal records. Here is a breakdown of those differences:
- Young adults found guilty of a summary offence; the record is removed three years after the satisfaction of sentence.
- If a minor is found guilty of an indictable offence, the record will stay active for five years after the sentence is satisfied. After the five-year period, with no other offences, the record is transferred to a particular repository that even law enforcement cannot access.
- If a young person is acquitted, receives a reprimand, extrajudicial sanctions, or is ordered to enter into a recognizance to keep peace and maintain good behavior, the information is then transferred to the special repository that doesn’t allow access to law enforcement.
- For young people whose charges are dismissed, withdrawn, or stayed, there will be no criminal record, but personal information is held unless there is a formal request to remove the data.
- Minors who have an expired criminal record will not be affected as an adult. After the records expire, the charges are dismissed entirely.
Adult criminal records have a much longer lasting effect on a person’s life than a youth conviction does. There is technically an expiration date for every adult criminal conviction, but it exists for decades unless the person gets a record suspension.
Different from minors, adults do not get strikes removed automatically from their record until many decades after the conviction.
One important fact to recognize is that record suspensions do mean that the public government records are sealed, meaning the general public cannot see a criminal record, but it is not to say that the conviction goes away entirely. The records of convictions are still accessible for particular purposes by legal agencies, if needed.
So, How Long Do Criminal Records Last?
Typically, most convicted crimes are not automatically removed until an individual is 80 years old. There are some cases where the crime is much more severe and will not disappear until the person is 100 years old. Criminal records are maintained by the RCMP or the Royal Canadian Mountain Police, and if, by chance, a person is 80 years old and has not requested a record suspension, they will remove the records only if the individual has not committed any crimes over the last decade.
The RCMP Record Retention Policy is responsible for processing the record suspensions, revocations, and cessation of record suspensions. It works directly with the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) to seal or reactivate criminal records after record suspensions are granted, revoke, or cease to affect.
For most people, having a record until they are 80 years old means they will have a record for their whole lives, which is why most people opt to work with the PBC to file a record suspension.
Having a criminal record can have significant negative consequences on people for their whole lives. Individuals who were charged with a crime but not convicted can also face hardships if they do not apply for a record suspension. Criminal records affect
- Finding and keeping jobs.
- Traveling outside of the country.
- Child custody cases, and
- Some educational endeavors.
For many people, it is in their best interest to apply for a record suspension if possible.
Canada Record Suspensions
Formerly known as pardons, a Canada record suspension is granted by the Parole Board of Canada and ensures the permanent removal and sealing of criminal records from federal databases. Once given, a Canada record suspension will remove the record which means criminal background checks will come back with a “no criminal record” result during searches.
It is important to note that there are rare circumstances when a criminal case file will be viewed, but only with written permission from the Minister of Justice. Less rare, individuals convicted of sexual offences will still be “red-flagged” for vulnerable sector searches. For most people though, a record suspension offers them a clean slate with the opportunity to reenter society as a law-abiding citizen. Having a pardon will help assist in many areas of an individual’s life. Here are some examples:
- Education: Many educational fields require a clean criminal record check, which means that many people with a criminal record are unable to pursue education. Being pardoned means freedom to pursue any educational field desired.
- Employment: Having a criminal record often means struggling to find and keep meaningful employment. Many companies require a criminal record check as a condition of employment.
- Child Custody: In child custody cases, judges can consider criminal records as proof of character. Custody and visitation rights can be affected by this.
- Volunteering: Most organizations require a clean record check for people to volunteer, which is particularly the case for any organization that helps children.
- People who want to adopt must pass a vulnerable sector search. While having a criminal record does not automatically disqualify a person, having a record suspension is a positive character reference.
- Canadian Citizenship: Many people are unaware that applying for Canadian citizenship requires no criminal record. For individuals who have a criminal record, their citizenship application will be denied. Being denied citizenship puts them at a higher risk of being deported. It is crucial for individuals who are seeking citizenship to look for a record suspension before applying to be a citizen.
Revocation of a Record Suspension
Record suspensions are permanent unless any one of these three conditions occur:
- The individual receives another conviction of an offence.
- Evidence shows that the person granted the record suspension is no longer acting as a good citizen, or
- Evidence finds that an individual knowingly made false or deceptive statements on their record suspension application.
Eligibility for a Record Suspension
After completing the terms of their sentencing, including all incarceration time, parole time, and full repayment of all fines, convicted individuals are required to pass through a period with no convictions before becoming eligible to apply for a pardon. As stated earlier in the article, persons with a summary conviction have a conviction-free period of three years, while individuals with an indictable conviction must be conviction free for five years following the completion of sentencing.
Record Suspension Applications
Individuals who are ready to seek record suspension can download the application from the National Parole Board. The application process involves filling out six pages of personal information and providing court and local police record check information.
Individuals who are applying are required to pay the processing fee, as well as any other costs required for fingerprinting and obtaining copies of criminal records, court documents, and local police record checks.
While Canada is known for offering law-abiding citizens plenty of opportunities to avoid criminal records, individuals who do cross the line and earn a criminal record, are affected until they are at least 80 years old if they do not, or cannot get a record suspension.
Criminal records follow individuals until removed, either through record suspension, or reaching the age of 80, and affect employment and education opportunities, child custody and adoption cases, volunteering opportunities, and Canadian citizenship for non-residents.
Children who commit crimes receive more leniency than adults but are still required to prove their ability to be law-abiding adult citizens, before being completely free of any criminal charges from their youth.
Criminal records last for most people’s whole life but some people, depending on the severity of their crime, can achieve a clean slate through record suspensions obtained by the PBC.
While the number of individuals who possess criminal records is low for the country, persons who possess a criminal record can feel the effects of their indiscretions through their whole lives. However, seeking a record suspension is a good option for those who have modified their behavior, and qualify.