The John Howard Society of Canada has a new post about a failed piece of Canadian legislation that would have provided automatic expungement of criminal records in that country. The post describes the effort to remedy the shortcomings of the current “one-at-a-time” record-clearing system, which it says is expensive (more than $600 to apply), bureaucratic, and “systematically works against poor and marginalized people.” As an example, it documents Canada’s serious “takeup” problem with its recent efforts to clear cannabis possession convictions: “despite the government’s claims of an enhanced process to grant pardons for cannabis possession now that it is legal, only a handful of the 250,000 or so Canadians with such records have received pardons so far.”
The post also discusses our report documenting U.S. expungement reforms in 2019, noting that while the problem of criminal records in this country is “much greater” than it is in Canada, we seem to be making better progress in dealing with it.
We reprint the introduction to the post below, and link to the piece.
Expunging criminal records
February 26, 2020
Last year Senator Kim Pate introduced a bill that would provide automatic expungement of criminal records in Canada. Under this bill, criminal records would automatically be sealed after a certain amount of time had elapsed following a criminal sentence unless there had meanwhile been a new criminal charge or conviction.
Expungement of criminal records is important because a criminal record has many harmful effects for a person’s entire lifetime, even decades after the end of their sentence. It is important to keep in mind that 3-4 million Canadian adults, or about 1 in 8, has a criminal record of some kind. Wherever you live in Canada, you likely have neighbours with a record. But, as another post on this blog showed, most people never commit a second crime, and this likelihood declines with every year that passes.
Searching for information on whether people with a criminal record may encounter problems traveling to Mexico, we found nothing relevant on the website of the Mexican Embassy in the U.S.. The State Department website contains only a very general warning:
Prior Criminal Convictions: U.S. citizens should be aware that Mexican law permits immigration authorities to deny foreigners entry into Mexico if they have been charged or convicted of a serious crime in Mexico or elsewhere.
However, the website of the Mexican Embassy in Canada explains Mexico’s policy in somewhat greater detail, listing the crimes that are likely to result in a refusal of entry:
Most Americans can freely visit Canada. However, if you have a criminal history, you may be refused entry. This post describes the circumstances in which a criminal record (including DUIs) will result in your being inadmissible even as a visitor, how long inadmissibility lasts, and what you can do to regain the right to travel freely to Canada.
Were you convicted?
If you were convicted of a crime in the United States or abroad, this will likely make you “criminally inadmissible.” Even if you were charged with an offence but never convicted, it is a good idea to travel with all your court documents demonstrating that there is no conviction on your record. Carrying all these documents, though not required, is highly recommended to avoid any confusion or refusals at the border as the onus is on the applicant to demonstrate that they are not inadmissible.
Border officers have the option to deny admission on grounds that it is reasonable to believe a person committed an act that would be an offence in Canada, so that pending charges may be grounds for a finding of inadmissibility. A guilty plea followed by dismissal of charges pursuant to a deferred adjudication scheme may also be considered proof of commission of an act.
Below is another excerpt from the second edition of Love, Roberts & Klingele, Collateral Consequences of Criminal Conviction: Law, Policy & Practice (West/NACDL, 2d ed. 2015)(forthcoming), this one about restrictions on international travel based on criminal record. The first section discusses the subject in general terms, while the second section describes restrictions on travel to Canada for individuals with a foreign conviction, and the methods of overcoming these restrictions. (An earlier post described methods of neutralizing Canadian convictions for purposes of travel to the U.S.)
A couple of news items about an increase in clemency applications in Canada made me curious to learn more about how restoration of rights works in our Northern neighbor.
Canada has long had a policy of virtually automatic sealing of criminal records through what is known as a “record suspension” (before 2012, called a “pardon”). The Criminal Records Act (CRA) makes record suspension available from the Parole Board of Canada for any offense except sex crimes involving children, and to any individual except those convicted of multiple serious crimes, after waiting periods of five years from completion of sentence for “summary” offenses and 10 years for “indictable” offenses. (Prior to 2012 the waiting periods were three and five years.) Non-conviction records may be purged sooner.
Once a record has been suspended, all information pertaining to convictions is taken out of the Canadian Police Information Centre and may not be disclosed without permission from the Minister of Public Safety. The CRA states that no employment application form within the federal public service may ask any question that would require an applicant to disclose a conviction. It is unlawful under Section 3 of the Canadian Human Rights Act to discriminate in employment or housing or union membership against anyone based upon “an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.”
In 2012-13 the PBC ordered more than 6600 pardons and records suspensions, 97% of all applications received. (According to the PBC website, since 1970 more than 460,000 Canadians have received pardons and record suspensions. “96 percent of these are still in force, indicating that the vast majority of pardon/record suspension recipients remain crime-free in the community.”)
The 2012 amendment of the CRA to extend the eligibility waiting periods has resulted in an increase in applications for the extraordinary remedy of “clemency,” which has higher standards but no eligibility waiting period. Clemency, formally known as the “Royal Prerogative of Mercy” (RPM), may be granted in federal cases by the Governor General or the Governor in Council (i.e. Federal Cabinet), and applications are staffed by the PBC. Clemency is intended “only for rare cases in which considerations of justice, humanity and compassion override the normal administration of justice.” All other avenues of relief must have been exhausted, and there must be must be “clear and strong evidence of injustice or undue hardship.” In contrast to the thousands of ordinary records suspensions granted each year in Canada, there are only a handful of these extraordinary clemency grants. In 2012 there were 52 RPM applications and only 12 grants.