Robin was 18 years old and pregnant when her two male roommates started dealing drugs out of their apartment. She contacted women’s shelters and looked for other places to live, but before she could find a place to go the police raided the apartment. Everyone who lived there was charged with drug trafficking. She moved out, and the charges against her were withdrawn. But even though she was never found guilty of any offence, that record of her interaction with the police has followed her. After years at school to further her education and $40,000 in student debt, the police released information about that charge on her record check. She was denied the volunteer and work experience her career required, and has been unable to continue her education.
“I wish that somebody would have told me when I was charged how much this would affect me. … So many doors have been shut and I wish I didn’t waste so much time trying to be someone who could work in the community and be with people when the doors just keep getting shut on me. Just be aware of how this can hold you back.” - Robin
Robin’s story is just one of many Canadians who have contacted the Canadian Civil Liberties Association because they are struggling with a non-conviction record - you can hear more of their stories on CCLA's website. They are individuals who were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time, and as a result have lost their jobs. People who have dealt with personal mental health issues, but now find themselves impeded in the pursuit of post-secondary education. Individuals who have freed themselves from abusive relationships are being punished instead of supported.
What is happening is unfair, and we think the system needs to change.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has criticized police forces for releasing non-conviction information – incidents like police records of suicide attempts, complaints where charges were never laid, withdrawn charges and acquittals – on police record checks. Releasing these records undermines the presumption of innocence and violates individuals’ privacy. When these records are turned over to businesses, educational institutions and community organizations, people are often excluded from employment, education and volunteer opportunities.
Releasing these records does not make our society safer. Research suggests that there is no correlation between a prior criminal conviction and an increased likelihood to commit a subsequent work-related offence. If this is the case, it is hard to understand how mental health records and unproven allegations, withdrawn charges, and acquittals are factors to be considered.
The time has come for our governments to seriously address widespread, unnecessary police record checks and the disclosure of non-conviction information. We need clear laws that prohibit the release of non-conviction records on record checks and establish a centralized screening body to ensure that records-based vetting for jobs working with the vulnerable sector – children, the elderly, the disabled, and others - occurs without discrimination or prejudice.
To achieve these goals, we need your help.
Please sign this petition now, to ask Canadian governments to pass legislation prohibiting the disclosure of non-conviction records on standard police record checks, and establishing a centralized, rights-respecting agency for vulnerable sector screening.
- Canadian governments
An increasing number of Canadian organizations – employers, volunteer managers, educational institutions, licensing bodies and governments – are incorporating police record checks into their hiring and management practices. These record checks frequently disclose information well beyond criminal convictions; depending on the police service, mental health apprehensions, records of suicide attempts, complaints where charges were never laid, withdrawn charges, acquittals, and even victim and witness information can be disclosed on record checks.
In our view, releasing non-conviction records is stigmatizing, discriminatory and undermines the presumption of innocence. We have spoken with Canadians who have lost their jobs as a result from unfounded police allegations. Individuals who have phoned 911 for mental health assistance, who are now fearful of continuing with education because their police record could be released. Others are finishing years of schooling, only to find out that decade-old withdrawn charges on their record will prevent them from completing their post-secondary degree. These outcomes are fundamentally unjust and unacceptable.
There is no evidence that non-conviction records are useful indicators of future behaviour. Indeed, the evidence shows that even records of conviction are not correlated with an increased likelihood to commit an employment-related offence. What we do know is that jobs, and the economic and social stability that accompanies employment, are significant protective factors against criminal offending. In light of this evidence, record checks are simply not useful – or justifiable – as standard workplace screening tools, and widespread, unnecessary record checks are more likely to undermine, rather than enhance, public safety.
We urge you to pass legislation prohibiting the disclosure of non-conviction records on standard police record checks, and establishing a centralized, rights-respecting agency for vulnerable sector screening.
Canadian Civil Liberties Association started this petition with a single signature, and now has 1,213 supporters. Start a petition today to change something you care about.