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.

Quebec Civil Society Groups Join the Call for Federal Action on Criminal Record Reform

MONTREAL — The Fresh Start Coalition announced today that several leading Quebec organisations are adding their voices to a growing chorus of groups urging the federal government to meaningfully reform the way Canada deals with criminal records.

The coalition now includes 85 civil society groups from across Canada that have come together to call on the federal government to implement a “spent records” regime – a regime that would automatically seal a person’s criminal record if they have successfully completed their sentence and lived in the community without further criminal convictions. Adopting a spent regime would promote reintegration, foster workforce participation, and improve community safety.

The Canadian government knows change is needed. In 2016, it promised to reform Canada’s arcane criminal record suspension regime. Over five years later, Canadians are still waiting for meaningful change.

“Record suspensions should be automatic for those who have successfully completed their sentence and lived in the community for years,” said Abby Deshman, Criminal Justice Program Director with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. “The federal government has taken some positive steps, particularly by reducing the application fee from nearly $660 to $50. Yet these steps must be followed up with transformative change. People with criminal records face challenges and barriers far beyond the financial cost of applying for a record suspension. If the government truly wishes to live up to its stated commitment to eliminating obstacles to reintegration, we must go further.”

“More than 800,000 Quebeckers have criminal records that will not be erased until they turn 125 – no matter how minor the offence they committed. People with past justice system involvement are deeply affected by their criminal records whenever they look for work or housing, travel across borders, or try to access car insurance or home insurance. The ASRSQ is joining the Fresh Start Coalition to propose concrete solutions aimed at fostering the reintegration of people with criminal records and thereby promoting community safety,” noted David Henry, Executive Director of the Association des services de réhabilitation sociale du Québec (ASRSQ).

“It’s worth highlighting that most women caught up in the justice system come from marginalized backgrounds. We applaud this initiative, which seeks to address an unjust situation that has – for far too long – hindered the reintegration of the women we work with,” added Ruth Gagnon, Executive Director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Quebec.

“Our government must enact transformational reform of our pardon regime. Our society believes in the promise of a second chance. Our laws must keep that promise,” concluded Ralph Mastromonaco, lawyer and member of the Steering Committee, Fresh Start Coalition.

This week, the following Quebec organizations officially joined the coalition:

  • 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 des services de réhabilitation sociale du Québec (ASRSQ)
  • Association québécoise des avocats et avocates de la défense (AQAAD)
  • Clinique juridique de Saint-Michel
  • Elizabeth Fry Society of Quebec
  • John Howard Society of Quebec
  • West Island Black Community Association

The full list of coalition supporters is available online at: https://freshstartcoalition.ca/the-coalition-for-change.

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.

News release – Fresh Start coalition launch

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

‘FRESH START’ COALITION LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN FOR CRIMINAL RECORD REFORM

November 17, 2021

TORONTO — The ‘Fresh Start’ Coalition launched a campaign today urging the federal government to revamp the way Canada deals with old criminal records. 

A coalition of over 60 civil society groups has come together to call on the federal government to implement a ‘spent regime’, which would automatically seal a person’s criminal record if they have successfully completed their sentence and lived in the community without further criminal convictions. Adopting a spent regime will promote reintegration and workforce participation and improve community safety. 

The Canadian government knows change is needed. In 2016, it began to make promises to reform Canada’s arcane criminal record suspension regime. Over five years later, Canadians are still waiting for change, and vulnerable people continue to suffer. It is a situation that deepens systemic inequality, jeopardizes community safety, and places needless barriers in front of job-seekers – at a time when Canadian employers are desperate for help. 

“Today, we are calling on the Canadian government to finally deliver real reform to the record suspension system by doing away with the unnecessary and complicated application process. Record suspensions should be automatic for those who have successfully completed their sentence and lived in the community for years,” said Abby Deshman, Criminal Justice Program Director with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. “The current system is broken – and is placing unnecessary and at times insurmountable barriers to recovery and reintegration in front of people struggling to rebuild their lives.”

“Implementing a spent regime would be a concrete step towards addressing anti-Black racism in the criminal justice system, in the workplace, and beyond. It would help ensure that Black people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system are not forever trapped in it, and have a better chance at getting jobs, homes, and an education,” said Moya Teklu, Executive Director of the Black Legal Action Centre.

“Those of us who work with survivors of gender-based violence in the family see all too often the long-term, negative consequences for those who are criminalized when they attempt to protect themselves and their children,” said Pam Cross, Legal Director for Luke’s Place. “A criminal conviction record can interfere with a woman’s ability to get or keep a job, travel or volunteer. She may even be prohibited from volunteering in her child’s class or on school field trips. Transforming Canada’s record suspension system will end these problems for survivors while also enhancing public safety. It’s a win-win.”

“A more efficient, less costly, and less arbitrary records management system will correct the unfairness for those who are entitled to relief but have been denied it due to marginalization and poverty,” said Catherine Latimer, Executive Director of the John Howard Society. “Such a system is already working well for youth records in Canada and should be applied to adult records.”

“For women, trans, and non-binary people, surviving poverty is often the reason that they become ensnared in the criminal system, and the stigma associated with a criminal record serves to keep them there”, said Emilie Coyle, Executive Direcotor of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies. “Record suspensions are currently only accessible to people who have the means to pay for them and, when you can’t afford to pay for a record suspension – as is true for so many of the people we work with – the impact of your criminalization is prolonged. The practical implication is that those people who can’t afford to pay for a record suspension are being further penalized for being poor. This is but one example of the ways that the current record suspension regime is harmful. Everyone should have access to justice and implementing a spent record regime will help to get us there.”

“The stigma of a criminal record jeopardizes the future of those Indigenous people who hope to pursue gainful employment and to secure a place within their respective communities as active participants. Indigenous people particularly suffer from the residual burdens of criminal records as a result of their disproportionate representation in Canada’s criminal justice system. Implementing a regime by which record suspensions will be automatic, as envisioned by the Fresh Start Coalition, helps to alleviate these burdens,” concluded Drew Lafond, President of the Indigenous Bar Association.

Over 60 organizations have signed onto the coalition which has a diverse membership of mental health organizations, violence against women organizations, poverty advocates, Indigenous- and Black-led organizations, and more. The groups joining the call today include:

  • Alliance for Healthier Communities   
  • Aboriginal Legal Services  
  • Assaulted Women’s Helpline (AWHL) 
  • Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic 
  • Bethesda House 
  • Black Community Action Network Peel  
  • Black Legal Action Centre 
  • British Columbia Civil Liberties Association 
  • Canadian Association of Black Lawyers   
  • Canadian Associations of Elizabeth Fry Societies   
  • Canadian Civil Liberties Association 
  • Canadian Council of Muslim Women 
  • Canadian Mental Health Association National  
  • Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario 
  • Canadian Prison Law Association   
  • Cannabis Amnesty   
  • The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health 
  • Criminal Lawyers’ Association 
  • The Elizabeth Fry Society of Cape Breton
  • Elizabeth Fry Society of Kamloops 
  • Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia   
  • Elizabeth Fry Society of New Brunswick 
  • Elizabeth Fry Society of Newfoundland and Labrador  
  • Elizabeth Fry Society of Northern Alberta 
  • Elizabeth Fry Society of North-Eastern Ontario 
  • Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan 
  • Elizabeth Fry Toronto 
  • Elliot Lake Women’s Group Inc. 
  • Empowerment Council   
  • Halton Community Legal Clinic  
  • Health Justice Program  
  • HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario 
  • HIV Legal Aid Network 
  • Hope 24/7  
  • Huron Women’s Shelter  
  • Inasmuch House & Women’s Services, Mission Services of Hamilton
  • Indigenous Bar Association
  • John Howard Society of Canada   
  • John Howard Society of New Brunswick   
  • John Howard Society of Ontario 
  • John Howard Society of Saskatchewan   
  • Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic   
  • Lanark County Interval House  
  • Luke’s Place 
  • Mothers Offering Mutual Support (MOMS)    
  • Muskoka Parry Sound Sexual Assault Services  
  • Neighbourhood Legal Services  
  • Network of Women with Disabilities (NOW)  
  • Niagara Community Legal Clinic  
  • Ontario Alliance to End Homelessness   
  • Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH)  
  • Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres  
  • Ottawa Coalition To End Violence Against Women (OCTEVAW)  
  • PASAN 
  • Peel Alliance to End Homelessness 
  • Prisoners’ Legal Services   
  • Pro Bono Law Saskatchewan 
  • Queen’s Prison Law Clinic   
  • Resolve Counselling Services  
  • Saint John Learning Exchange  
  • The Social Economy Through Social Inclusion Coalition (SETSI) 
  • The Women & Children’s Shelter (Barrie)  
  • Thunder Woman Healing Lodge Society   
  • Timmins and Area Women in Crisis  
  • Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project   
  • Victim Services of Durham Region  
  • Women’s Shelter Canada 
  • YWCA Cambridge

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Media Contact:
media@ccla.org
Alex Nanoff – 613.709.6318

La coalition « Nouveau départ » lance une campagne pour promouvoir la réforme du casier judiciaire


TORONTO — La coalition « Nouveau départ » (CND) lance aujourd’hui une campagne afin que le gouvernement fédéral revoie la façon dont le Canada traite les antécédents judiciaires.

Une coalition de plus de soixante (60) groupes associatifs s’est constituée 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 permettra aux personnes ayant purgé leur peine de se réintégrer à la vie active et améliorera 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, la population canadienne attend toujours de voir ces promesses se concrétiser et des gens vulnérables continuent de souffrir. Il s’agit d’une situation qui renforce l’inégalité systémique, met en péril la sécurité des collectivités et dresse des obstacles inutiles pour des demandeurs d’emploi, alors que les entreprises canadiennes cherchent désespérément de la main-d’œuvre à embaucher.

« Aujourd’hui, nous demandons au gouvernement canadien de procéder enfin à une véritable réforme du système de suspension des antécédents judiciaires en se débarrassant du processus actuel de demande de suspension, inutile et compliqué. La suspension des antécédents judiciaires devrait être automatique pour les personnes qui ont purgé leur peine et sont sorties de prison depuis des années, a déclaré Abby Deshman, directrice de programme de justice pénale de l’Association canadienne des libertés civiles (ACLC). Le système actuel est défaillant et dresse des obstacles inutiles et parfois insurmontables au rétablissement et à la réintégration de personnes qui luttent pour reconstruire leur vie. »

« La mise en place d’un régime de peines révolues serait une étape concrète pour lutter contre le racisme envers la population noire dans le système de justice pénale, au travail et ailleurs. Elle contribuerait à faire en sorte que les Noirs qui ont eu des démêlés avec la justice ne s’y retrouvent pas constamment confrontés, et ont de meilleures chances d’obtenir un emploi, un logement et une éducation, a ajouté Moya Teklu, directrice générale du Black Legal Action Centre. »

« Ceux et celles d’entre nous qui travaillent avec les survivants de la violence sexiste dans leur famille voient trop souvent les répercussions négatives à long terme de la criminalisation de personnes qui ont tenté de se protéger et de protéger leurs enfants, a commenté Pam Cross, directrice juridique de Luke’s Place. Le fait d’avoir un casier judiciaire peut empêcher une femme de se trouver un emploi ou de conserver celui qu’elle a déjà, de voyager, de faire du bénévolat. Cela peut même l’empêcher de faire du bénévolat dans la classe de son enfant ou de participer à des sorties scolaires. La transformation du système canadien de suspension des antécédents judiciaires mettra fin à ces problèmes pour les survivants de ce type de violence en même temps qu’elle renforcera la sécurité publique. Tout le monde y sera gagnant. »

« La mise en place d’un système de gestion des casiers judiciaires plus efficace, moins coûteux et moins arbitraire, permettrait de corriger l’injustice dont font l’objet les personnes ayant droit à de l’aide, mais qui se la voient refuser en raison de la marginalisation et de la pauvreté, d’ajouter Catherine Latimer, directrice générale de la John Howard Society. Le Canada a déjà un tel système qui fonctionne bien pour le casier judiciaire des jeunes et il devrait être appliqué aux adultes. »

« En ce qui concerne les femmes, les personnes transgenres et les personnes non binaires, c’est souvent pour survivre à la pauvreté qu’elles sont aux prises avec la justice, et les stigmates associés au casier judiciaire contribuent à les y maintenir, de préciser Emilie Coyle, directrice générale de l’Association canadienne des sociétés Elizabeth Fry. Actuellement, la suspension des antécédents judiciaires n’est accessible qu’aux personnes qui en ont les moyens et, pour celles qui en sont dépourvues, comme c’est le cas de beaucoup des gens avec lesquels nous travaillons, l’impact de ces antécédents se perpétue. Dans la pratique, les personnes qui n’ont pas les moyens de demander une suspension de leurs antécédents s’en trouvent d’autant plus pénalisées du fait de leur pauvreté. Ce n’est qu’un exemple parmi d’autres qui montre à quel point ce régime est dommageable. Toute personne devrait avoir accès à la justice et l’instauration d’un régime de peines révolues nous aidera à en améliorer l’accès. »

« La stigmatisation associée aux antécédents criminels met en péril l’avenir des Autochtones qui espèrent obtenir un emploi rémunéré et s’assurer d’avoir une place à part entière dans la vie de leurs collectivités. Du fait de sa surreprésentation dans le système de justice pénale du Canada, la population autochtone souffre tout particulièrement du fardeau résiduel des casiers judiciaires. La mise en place d’unrégime qui permettra, comme l’envisage la coalition Nouveau départ, la suspension automatique des antécédents judiciaires dans certains cas, aura pour effet d’alléger ce fardeau, de conclure Drew Lafond, président de l’Association du Barreau autochtone du Canada. »

À propos de la Coalition Nouveau départ:

Plus de soixante (60) organismes se sont regroupés pour former cette coalition. On y trouve des organismes œuvrant dans le secteur de la santé mentale, la lutte contre la violence faite aux femmes, la défense des personnes vivant dans la pauvreté, la défense des Noirs et des Autochtones, et bien d’autres organismes.
www.freshstartcoalition.ca

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Communication avec les médias :
media@ccla.org
Alex Nanoff – 613.709.6318