Limitations of a Record Suspension

Please note that a pardon and a record suspension are the same thing. It is only the name and some specifics of the program that are different. The pardon program was changed to record suspension following the Conservative government’s omnibus crime bill C-10.

Contrary to what you may have a heard a record suspension does not eliminate a criminal record. However, don’t think this means there is no value in obtaining one. The following bullet list is from the Parole Board of Canada website:

What are the limitations of a record suspension?

  1. A record suspension does not erase the fact that a person was convicted of an offence.
  2. A record suspension does not guarantee entry or visa privileges to another country.
  3. Courts and police services, other than the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), are under provincial and municipal legislation. This means that they do not have to keep records of convictions separate and apart from other criminal records.
  4. The CRA lists certain sexual offences. If a person was pardoned for such offences, his/her record will be kept separate and apart, but his/her name will be flagged in the CPIC computer system. This means a person will be asked to let employers see his/her record if this person wants to work with children or with groups that are vulnerable because of their age or disability. The flag is applied regardless of the date of conviction or the date a record suspension was ordered.
  5. A sentence may have included various prohibition orders imposed under the Criminal Code, such as a driving or firearms prohibition order. A record suspension will not cancel these prohibition orders.

The above information can be found on the Parole Board of Canada website:

Looking at these limitations in more depth.

  1. The first limitation is certainly true. A record suspension does not erase anything. Rather the record is removed from public files so that no one has access to it. Therefore, when you perform a background check nothing will appear. The results will be the same for the applicant with a record suspension as it is for someone who has never been arrested.
    Conflict arises sometimes when people ask if they are obliged to disclose when a record suspension has been granted. There is no clear answer to this and no law to support either a yes or no position. You will have to make your own decision on this.
  2. It is also true that a record suspension does not guarantee access to another country. This is a common discussion on my blog. For more information see here: A record suspension will not guarantee entry to another country but it may help facilitate entry because it’s possible that border guards would no longer have access to the information. This relates to the topic above. Are you or are you not required to disclose your pardon when crossing a border?
  3. Courts and police do not have to remove any information they have on file after a record suspension has been ordered. This is true. But keep in mind that almost all police and court jurisdictions comply with the federal record suspension program. Not all of them comply, but most do.
  4. Sexual offences are flagged. This is true. A separate database exists for people who have sexual offences and if someone applies for a job working with the people who need protecting (children being the most common) the hiring agency is supposed to perform a Vulnerable Sector Check. The problem is that not all agencies volunteer to do this check and many are not even aware that such a thing exists. Also keep in mind that sexual offences involving children are no longer eligible for a record suspension except under certain rare circumstances where the two people involved are within 5 years of each other’s age.
  5. Prohibition orders stay in effect even after a record suspension has been granted. The most common prohibition we see is a firearms prohibition which can often last 10 years or more. Another common prohibition is a driving prohibition most commonly resulting from a DUI arrest. In the case of a driving restriction, however, the restriction rarely lasts long enough to make any difference in these situations.

What does it all mean?

Although there certainly are limitations to a record suspension it is still a valuable thing to obtain. Removing a criminal record will aid in employment, volunteering, peace of mind and more. It is highly advantageous to apply to have your record removed.

It is also very important for society to have such a program in place. Since starting the pardon program (including the record suspension program) has awarded more than 400,000 applicants the right to move past their mistakes.

These people often become more productive members of society. It allows them to pursue a career unhindered. Returning that many people back to the workforce helps the economy, generates tax revenue and so forth. It also helps people stay out of trouble with the law.

If you have a criminal record, don’t be concerned with the limitations of applying to have your record sealed. The program was designed to balance public safety and your right to move on with your life. But bear in mind that if you are arrested again there is a very good chance your pardoned record will be unsealed.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact a counsellor at the National Pardon Centre.

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