Support intimate partner violence survivors – change the law

Find out why changing how Canada deals with old criminal records would be transformative for thousands of survivors of intimate partner violence. Read the oped in the Toronto Star by coalition members Emilie Coyle (Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies), Pamela Cross (Legal Director of Luke’s Place), and Pam Hrick (Executive Director of the Womens’ Legal Education and Action Fund).

Summer advocacy blitz – write your MP!

We’re doing a summer advocacy blitz to make sure that the issue of record suspensions is a government priority heading into the Fall. Pitch in by emailing your elected representative – a template email is below. Please personalize it to make it your own – these emails are best if they speak of your own experience, in your own voice. If you don’t know who your federal Member of Parliament or their email is you can use the House of Commons search tool to find out.

Template email

To: MP XXXXX <XXX.XXX@parl.gc.ca>
Subject: Reforming the Criminal Records Act

Dear MP XXXX

I am writing to bring your attention to an issue that I feel passionately about – the pressing need to reform Canada’s criminal records system. I am a constituent in your riding and [insert here if you have personal or professional experience that is relevant to criminal records – eg. a person with lived experience, a family member of a person with a criminal record, or a manager at XYZ Organization, a non-profit that provides housing and employment services to hundreds of Canadians each year.] 

Over one in nine Canadians carry the stigma and burden of an old criminal record. Despite the fact that a criminal record cannot reliably predict who will be a good employee or tenant, these records frequently prevents people from accessing stable housing, jobs, or meaningful community volunteer work. The federal Criminal Records Act allows people to apply to seal an old criminal conviction by getting a record suspension – but the process is broken. It is very complicated, bureaucratic, and time-consuming, effectively inaccessible to those community members who need it the most. These barriers disproportionately affects communities that are over-represented in the criminal justice system — including Black people and members of other racialized communities, Indigenous persons, and those experiencing homelessness, mental illness, and addiction.

It keeps people from finding housing and stable jobs, which are vital to preventing recidivism. And it prevents people who have paid their debt to society from moving on and rebuilding their lives. 

I know that the government is currently considering putting in place a system where a person’s criminal record would be automatically sealed after they have finished their sentence and lived in the community without any further convictions. Making this change just makes sense. It would reduce red tape, enhance public safety, and meaningfully affect the lives of many thousands of Canadians. 

Please let me know if I can count on your support, as my elected representative, to help keep criminal record reform a priority and enact a comprehensive, automatic regime for record suspensions.

Sincerely, 

[your name]

The Fresh Start Coalition emphasizes the need to fix Canada’s criminal records system during government consultations

From April to June 2022, many supporters of the Fresh Start Coalition participated in stakeholder consultations launched by Public Safety Canada in order to explore the possibility of an automatic system for sealing criminal records. A wide range of organizations and individuals involved with the Fresh Start Coalition made their voices heard, either in writing or through online roundtable sessions. Participants shared personal stories, weighed in on the benefits of an automatic system, and described how the current system hampers reintegration and entrenches systemic discrimination.

Interested in delving into the issues? Check out these written submissions authored by members of the Fresh Start Coalition.

The joint written submission was endorsed by twelve individuals and organizations:
British Columbia Civil Liberties Association;
Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies;
Canadian Civil Liberties Association;
Debra Parkes, Professor and Chair in Feminist Legal Studies, University of British Columbia;
Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia;
Elizabeth Fry Toronto; Empowerment Council;
John Howard Society of Canada;
John Howard Society of New Brunswick;
John Howard Society of Ontario;
Prisoners’ Legal Services; and
Tareq Bawwab, Community Expertise Committee, Fresh Start Coalition.

“The promise of a second chance”: Read Ralph Mastromonaco’s op-ed in the Montreal Gazette

This week, Ralph Mastromonaco, a member of the Fresh Start Coalition’s Steering Committee, published an op-ed in the Montreal Gazette, making the case for transformational reform of Canada’s record suspension system.

While it may be tempting for politicians to resort to “tough on crime” rhetoric and policies, Ralph explains, such policies do not keep Canadians safer. Indeed, changes to Canada’s criminal record regime in 2012 have had devastating impacts on people with past justice system involvement. As Ralph explains:

“We live in a society that has become less forgiving and more judgmental. The stigma of a criminal record seriously prejudices the ability of people to rebuild their lives, even after they have paid their debt to society. A criminal record significantly hinders a person’s ability to secure employment, pursue studies, obtain housing, credit, insurance, to travel or volunteer. This prejudice is all the more acute for Indigenous and racialized people who are disproportionately convicted and incarcerated by our criminal justice system.”

The op-ed advocates for the introduction of a spent records model, where an individual’s criminal record would be automatically sealed after a defined period of time. This model would help Canadians with criminal records move forward and rebuild their lives. As Ralph concludes: “I am convinced that Canadians believe in the promise of a second chance. Our laws must keep that promise.” Read the full op-ed here.

Check out coalition member Samantha McAleese’s op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen

Last month marked the ten-year anniversary of the Safe Streets and Communities Act – the omnibus tough on crime bill that was driven by a punitive political agenda. The bill enacted a slate of punitive, politically-driven changes to Canada’s criminal justice system, including new mandatory minimum sentences and increased prison time for cannabis-related convictions. It also overhauled the Criminal Records Act, putting in place longer wait times and stricter standards for accessing a pardon (which it renamed “record suspension”). It introduced broad ineligibilities, entirely foreclosing the path to record suspensions for people found guilty of certain crimes, no matter their individual circumstances or how long ago their sentences had ended.

Coalition member Samantha McAleese marked the dark anniversary in a recent op-ed – and outlined the path that needs to be taken to undo the harms of the bill and introduce truly transformative change for individuals and communities. Read the full op-ed here.

Des organisations québécoises se joignent à l’appel au gouvernement fédéral de réformer le système d’antécédents judicaires

La coalition « Nouveau départ » annonce aujourd’hui que plusieurs organismes québécois ajoutent leurs voix à un chœur croissant de groupes qui exhortent le gouvernement fédéral à reformer de manière significative la façon dont le Canada traite les antécédents judiciaires.

La coalition compte désormais 85 groupes associatifs à travers le Canada qui se sont réunies pour demander au gouvernement fédéral d’instaurer un régime de « peines révolues », qui scellerait automatiquement les antécédents judiciaires de toute personne qui a purgé sa peine et vécu en société sans autres condamnations pénales. L’adoption d’un tel régime favoriserait la réintégration, encouragerait la participation au marché du travail et améliorerait la sécurité des collectivités.

Le gouvernement canadien sait que des changements s’imposent. En 2016, il a commencé à promettre qu’il allait réformer l’obscur système de suspension du casier judiciaire. Plus de cinq ans plus tard, les Canadiens attendent toujours de voir ces promesses se concrétiser.

« La suspension des antécédents judiciaires devrait être automatique pour les personnes qui ont purgé leur peine et vécu dans la communauté depuis des années, a déclaré Abby Deshman, directrice du programme de justice pénale de l’Association canadienne des libertés civiles (ACLC). Bien que le gouvernement fédéral ait pris certaines mesures positives, notamment la réduction des frais de demande de presque $660 à $50, ces mesures doivent être suivies de changements plus transformateurs. Les embûches et barrières auxquelles font face les personnes judiciarisées vont bien au-delà du coût financier du processus de demande. Si le gouvernement veut vraiment respecter son engagement déclaré d’éliminer les obstacles pour la réinsertion sociale, il doit aller plus loin. »

« Plus de 800 000 Québécois-es possèdent un casier judiciaire qui ne sera jamais effacé avant leurs 125 ans, peu importe l’infraction commise même la plus minime. Toutes les personnes judiciarisées sont affectées durablement dans leurs recherches d’emploi, de logement, leurs déplacements à l’étranger et leur accès à l’assurance automobile et habitation à cause de leur casier judiciaire. L’ASRSQ se joint à la coalition « Nouveau départ » pour proposer des solutions concrètes afin de favoriser la réintégration sociale des personnes judiciarisées et ainsi protéger nos communautés, a commenté David Henry, directeur général, Association des services de réhabilitation sociale du Québec (ASRSQ). »

« Nous voulons rappeler que les femmes judiciarisées sont issues, pour la plupart, de milieux défavorisés. Nous saluons cette initiative qui vise à corriger une situation d’injustice qui a porté préjudice, depuis de trop nombreuses années, à la réintégration sociale de ces femmes, a ajouté Ruth Gagnon, directrice générale de la Société Elizabeth Fry du Québec. »

« Notre gouvernement doit procéder à une rigoureuse réforme de notre système de suspension du casier judiciaire. Faire progresser notre société requiert que nous offrons une deuxième chance aux personnes qui cherchent un nouveau départ. Nos lois devraient correspondre à cette valeur, a conclut Me Ralph Mastromonaco, membre du comité de coordination, coalition Nouveau départ. »

Les organismes québécois qui se sont joints à la coalition cette semaine sont :

  • Association des avocats de la défense de Montréal-Laval-Longueuil (AADM)
  • Association des avocats de la défense de Québec (AADQ)
  • Association des avocats et avocates en droit carcéral du Québec
  • Association de la communauté noire de l’Ouest de l’Île
  • Association des services de réhabilitation sociale du Québec (ASRSQ)
  • Association québécoise des avocats et avocates de la défense (AQAAD)
  • Clinique juridique de Saint-Michel
  • Société Elizabeth Fry du Québec
  • Société John Howard du Québec

La liste complète des membres de la coalition est disponible à l’adresse suivante : https://freshstartcoalition.ca/fr/the-coalition-for-change.