Right now people have to apply to have their record suspended. It is a long, cumbersome, complex and expensive process that for many is simply out of reach.
Canada needs to transition to a spent regime model. Under a spent regime, an individual’s record is automatically sealed (i.e. “spent”) after a certain amount of time. Making this change would reduce red tape and significant administrative costs, enhance public safety, and ensure more Canadians are able to get a fresh start and a chance at gainful employment.
While introducing a spent records regime would be a transformative step, it is not a novel proposal. Many other jurisdictions have adopted a spent regime model for old criminal records. Canada currently has a spent regime for youth records under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. There are different access periods that determine the length of time before a record is sealed or destroyed, depending on the type of offence and disposition. This established precedent can be replicated in the adult system, by reforming the Criminal Records Act.
We also need our federal laws to be updated so that people who have simply come into contact with the police – but have never been found guilty of a crime – are not saddled with criminal records.
A spent regime would enhance public safety
Lowering barriers to stable employment helps prevent recidivism. And while the discriminatory use of old criminal records would be curbed, the a spent records law could still allow for older criminal records to be used in ways that meaningfully and fairly enhance public safety.
Records would only be automatically sealed after a period of time, and only if a person has not been convicted of any new offences. And a ‘spent’ record doesn’t mean it is erased from police databases. As with Canada’s youth records system, police and other justice system actors could retain access to spent records for specific purposes, such as new criminal investigations and evidence-based domestic violence risk assessments. The existing vulnerable sector check regime, which allows certain records to be ‘unsealed’ if an individual is applying to work or volunteer with vulnerable individuals such as children, could also remain in place – ensuring that certain spent records could be disclosed when people apply for these sensitive positions.
In short – there are lots of ways to ensure that older criminal records are available for specific purposes when the evidence shows that they will actually be contributing to the administration of justice and public safety. A spent records regime would support safe and healthy communities by helping to ensure that the stigma associated with a criminal record doesn’t unnecessarily get in the way of people rebuilding their lives after they have served their debt to society.