Many clients charged with criminal offences express concern that they don’t want a criminal record, and rightfully so. A criminal record can affect one’s ability to travel or to obtain citizenship, and can even affect their employment. A criminal record can destroy a person’s reputation in the community.
How do you get a Criminal Record?
A criminal record is only acquired when someone is convicted of a crime.
A person who is charged with a criminal offence still has no criminal record, as is the case with someone whose charge is withdrawn upon them, entering into a Peace Bond. Anyone who pleads guilty to an offence and obtains either a Conditional Discharge and Probation or an Absolute Discharge and Probation also has no criminal record, because these dispositions (sentences) according to Canadian law do not constitute criminal convictions.
A Discharge is given special treatment by the Canadian justice system, and doesn’t constitute a criminal record or criminal conviction. If you’ve obtained a Discharge, you can answer “No” to the questions, “Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offence?” and “Do you have a criminal record?”
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What’s the Difference Between Criminal Records and Police Records?
The police keep significant information in their database, the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC), relating to many matters.
Every time they respond to a request for an officer, either a 911 call or otherwise, or make a vehicle stop as part of an investigation, the circumstances are catalogued in an Occurrence Report or Field Information Report. Arrests, bails, Probation Orders and other Orders are catalogued in the CPIC.
In most cases upon arrest, individuals provide their photographs and fingerprints to the police. All of this information, photographs and record keeping do not constitute criminal records. It’s merely data that the police have access to in their database.
What Shows up in a Criminal Record Search?
Upon the successful conclusion of a case, many clients are surprised to find out that the circumstances of their case, such as their arrest, bail, and the result of the prosecution, are all accessible to the police. The mere fact that a client was acquitted or exonerated does not erase the digital paper trail.
Law enforcement agencies have access to this information, but such data does not constitute as a criminal record unless there is a criminal conviction attached to it.
There are different types of searches that the police will do upon request. A criminal record search will only disclose criminal convictions (not Peace Bonds, withdrawals, acquittals, or Discharges).
Some agencies that deal with vulnerable members of the public require prospective employees to obtain a Vulnerable Sector Search, or another deeper record search that will disclose all criminal charges and occurrences in the police database. In some cases, governing professional bodies will request annual disclosure of any criminal charges and their circumstances, whether or not the prosecution was successful.
Only a Pardon can erase all information relating to a criminal investigation. The information disclosed by police will depend upon the nature of the record search performed. If there was no criminal conviction, a criminal record search should not result in the disclosure of any prejudicial information in the police database.