Bill C-10 has been a source of much media attention recently. Many experts, including the Canadian Bar Association, regard Bill C-10, ironically titled The Safe Streets and Communities Act, to be a major mistake. The proposed changes to our criminal system include much longer and harsher sentences including stricter sentences for youth offenders and mandatory incarceration for minor, non-violent offences. The proposal would also make significantly lengthen the wait for pardons.
In light of these proposed changes, it is even more important to understand the implications of criminal activity as a “criminal record” can impact all aspects of an individual’s life, ranging from travel outside of Canada to employment opportunities.
What is a criminal record?
1. Criminal activity
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 a more serious crime (i.e, 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.
If no further action is taken by the court after five years, the temporary file is destroyed.
2. Criminal Record
If the charge results in a conviction, CPIC enters the information contained in the temporary file to its 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.
3. What if you have been charged but not convicted?
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.
4. What about less serious offences (i.e., summary offences)?
Only criminal record information concerning more serious offences such as 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.
What is the impact of having a criminal record?
1. Ability to travel
A criminal record does not impact the ability to travel within Canada. However, every country has its own rules and practice about visitors with criminal records. In some countries, like the United States, certain types of crimes may render an individual inadmissible. Even if admissible, the United States may require a person to get a travel waiver.
The United States and some other foreign countries have access to the CPIC system so customs officials use the CPIC system to determine whether individuals have criminal records.
2. Educational opportunities
There are many educational programs that require a criminal record check before an applicant is accepted.
3. Employment opportunities
Many employers ask for background checks or criminal record checks to be conducted before an applicant is hired.
As you can see, the implications of having a criminal record are far-reaching, and many people are not aware of the consequences it can have on their day to day lives. With the proposed changes in Bill C-10, it is important that citizens are aware of the effects a “tough on crime” stance may have on the general populace. Depending on the severity of the criminal activity and any resulting criminal records created, a criminal record can follow you for a very long time – especially given the stricter stance on pardons that may be adopted should Bill C-10 pass.
Read more about criminal records at http://www.johnhoward.ab.ca/pub/A5.htm#2
Read more about the CBA’s stance on Bill C-10 at http://www.cba.org/cba/blastemail/pdf/10_reasons_to_oppose.pdf