Effect of a criminal record

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How can a conviction hurt you?

A criminal conviction or even a discharge – where you’re found guilty but not convicted – could restrict your ability to travel abroad. Some countries, including the United States, could refuse you entry.

If you are a visitor to Canada, for example, on a student visa or temporary work permit, any criminal conviction could result in your deportation. A landed immigrant convicted of a crime might have to wait several more years before being allowed to apply for citizenship. If the crime is serious, even a landed immigrant may be deported.

A criminal record could prevent you from obtaining a licence to work in a chosen field. Many professional and vocational bodies require that their members be of “good character” and may reject applicants convicted of certain crimes. For example, the Architects Act of Ontario provides that an aspiring architect could be denied a licence if his or her past conduct “affords grounds for belief that the applicant will not engage in the practice of architecture in accordance with the law and with honesty and integrity.”

A conviction, or even a finding of guilt, involving theft, fraud or other crime of dishonesty could bar you from work in an industry where you have access to other people’s money or property such as banking, retailing, transportation, or cleaning.

A conviction for a crime involving violence or threats could result in your being refused a firearms acquisition certificate (FAC) or licence for the use of a firearm, such as a hunting licence.

Record Suspensions

If as an adult you are convicted of an offence that is prosecuted by summary conviction, you are eligible for a record suspension (formerly known as a pardon) five years from the time you complete your sentence (e.g., payment of fine or restitution, completion of probation).

Following conviction of an indictable offence, you must wait 10 years before eligibility. The waiting periods were increased from three and five years, respectively, by 2012 amendments to the Criminal Records Act.

Also under the amendments, enacted as part of the Harper government’s “tough on crime” agenda, you cannot obtain a record suspension if you have been convicted of a sexual offence involving a child or more than three offences prosecuted by indictment each with a prison sentence of two years or more.

Record Disclosure Very Limited

Once you have a record suspension, the underlying criminal conviction cannot be disclosed unless authorized by the federal Criminal Records Act. The act allows disclosure under narrow circumstances:

  • The Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness determines that the disclosure is “desirable in the interests of the administration of justice or for any purpose related to the safety or security of Canada or any state allied or associated with Canada.”
  • If your pardon is for a sex offence such as sexual assault or indecent act (for a full list of such offences see Schedule 2 of the Act), the conviction could be disclosed if you apply for a job involving work with vulnerable persons such as children, the disabled or the elderly.
  • If your fingerprints are found at a crime scene, your name, date of birth and last known address may be disclosed to police investigators. This information also may be disclosed to help identify a corpse or amnesiac.