A Criminal Population: The 10% Question

One of the statistics we deal with in the pardon business on a frequent basis is the percentage of Canadians with a criminal record. The most common number is 10% but I have numbers all the way up to 30% thrown around. All the time we hear that 10% of the population in Canada has a criminal record. But the issue is complicated by a few factors.

We cannot just say that given a population of 33 Million people 3.3 million will have a criminal record. We need to ask a few more question before we could hope to arrive at a reliable prediction (although predictions are, obviously, notoriously unreliable).

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Does 10% include people arrested but found not guilty?
  • Does 10% include people who have obtained Canada pardons?
  • Does 10% include people who were only questioned by police but never charged?

The problem is that there are criminal records and then there are criminal records. In the vague sense a criminal record is any type of documentation attesting to a confrontation with the law and subsequent police intervention. In the specific sense a criminal record is a documented guilty conviction with registration of the offenders name in CPIC (Canadian Police Information System). A criminal record is not just black and white.

The problem is that even if we answered all the questions above it would still be extremely difficult to assess the actual number of criminals or people living with a criminal record, in Canada. But the 10% answer is not a bad compromise. And while it may seem like a relatively large percent of the population it really isn’t. One thing I like to tell people is that crime is not going anywhere. Put all the indivdual and societal blames aside for a moment and consider that policing is a job someone is paid to do. If that person isn’t making arrests there is no more job. This is not to imply the the police make arrests without due cause. It is just to point out that policing is a career and there are probably always going to be people who need to be policed.

Let’s face it. For all the good people do in the world we still haven’t found a way to stop people from doing bad. And so long as they do we will always have the police there to catch as many of them as they can. And besides, at least with the cases I deal with, it is mostly just people making simple mistakes. It may not seem like it because of all the crime drama on television but most of the stuff that winds its way through the courts is remarkably dull. In other words, all those criminals out there are – mostly – just a bunch of people being human.


Comment (0)
Ben Winnipeg / May 17, 2015

Hi Michael,

I really like your arguments for 10%, but not sure I agree with your assessment that most of these people are just being human. I am sure that some of the 10% are just making stupid mistakes, most of the population has done something stupid at some point in their lives whether they were caught or not. And on the other end of the scale there are people who society would say are evil, and those people commit unthinkable crimes. but the vast majority of criminals in our society have struggles with addiction and / or mental health problems. Addiction is not just drugs and alcohol, it can also be gambling, shopping, working or many other causes. Many of the criminals in our society were they sober would give you the shirt of their backs, but when they are not sober, they might steal the shirt off your back…

Michael Ashby / May 19, 2015

Thanks Ben. And thank you for bringing my attention to that old post. It needed a bit of work. There were some strange alphabet characters that made their way in there.

Kind regards,


Alex H / April 30, 2017

ben you should stop drinking the Kool-Aid


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