Millions of Canadians (perhaps three million) have a criminal record. Such records have an impact; being branded a "criminal" even for very minor offences can be a big problem.
Since most people with a criminal record are able to rehabilitate themselves and become law abiding productive Canadians there is a way to seal a criminal record if certain conditions are met. This is commonly known as a pardon but technically it is a "record suspension".
A pardon keeps a judicial record of a conviction separate and apart from other criminal records, and gives law abiding citizens an opportunity to reintegrate into society. The Criminal Records Act removes all information about the pardoned conviction from the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC).
A pardon removes disqualifications caused by a criminal conviction; it allows you to contract with the federal government, or to apply for Canadian citizenship. That said, a pardon does not eliminate the conviction and if you are convicted of a new offence, the information may lead to a reactivation of the record in CPIC.
A pardon does NOT allow you free access to the United States as pardons are not recognized by American authorities. That said, having a pardon generally makes getting a waiver to enter the United States much easier.
You need a pardon only if you have a criminal conviction. This means if you received a discharge for an offence you do not need a pardon - in fact you cannot get a pardon.
Specifically, if you received an absolute discharge on or after July 24, 1992, the RCMP will automatically remove it from its system one year after the court decision. If you received a conditional discharge on or after July 24, 1992, the RCMP will automatically remove it 3 years after the court decision. If you received an absolute or conditional discharge before July 24, 1992, contact the RCMP to have the information removed (RCMP Pardon & Purge Services, P.O. Box 8885, Ottawa, ON K1G 3M8).
If you were convicted of a crime as a young person (under 18) and have a youth record only you do not need a pardon -- your record is already sealed.
You can apply for a pardon only after you have fully fulfilled the terms of any sentence imposed on you following conviction AND after a waiting period.
You have completed all your sentences if you have:
- paid all fines, surcharges, costs, restitution and compensation orders. This requirement is strictly enforced and the most common reason for a pardon to be refused is unpaid fines
- served all sentences of imprisonment, conditional sentences, including parole or statutory release
- completed your probation order
After completing all of your sentences, you must have completed a waiting period:
- 5 years for a summary conviction under the Criminal Code (other than an offence listed in schedule 1 of the Criminal Records Act (C.R.A.) or other federal act or regulation.
- 10 years for an indictable conviction (other than an offence listed in schedule 1 of the C.R.A).
- 5 years for a summary conviction for an offence listed schedule 1 of the C.R.A (sexual offence involving a child).
- 10 years for a personal injury offence conviction (s.752 C.C), for which a sentence of 2 years or more was imposed.
- 10 years for an indictable conviction of an offence referred to in schedule 1 of the C.R.A.(sexual offence involving a child).
- 5 or 10 years for all convictions by a Canadian offender transferred to Canada under the Transfer of Offenders Act or International Transfer of Offenders Act (10 years for sexual offences).
- 5 years under the National Defence Act, if you were fined more than $2,000, detained or imprisoned more than 6 months, or dismissed from service.
- 3 years under the National Defence Act, for a service offence.
You do not need a lawyer to apply for a pardon and the forms are easily available on-line (here is the government website taking you to the forms - be careful about searching the web as many other non official sites exist
Some people hire a lawyer or pardon company to assist as the paperwork is fairly complex. There is a significant delay in processing pardons at the government level -- currently it is running well over a year and perhaps closer to two years.
You will need a user fee for processing a record suspension is $631. In addition you need the following documents:
- a certified copy of the criminal record obtained through the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's Criminal Records and Pardoned Criminal Records - Personal Information Requests program
- record checks performed by local police
- proof of conviction, if a conviction does not appear in the criminal record
- court records, which only apply to confirm pardon eligibility or provide proof of payment of all fines
- a certified military conduct sheet, if applicable