Each year police forces across the country run hundreds of thousands of background checks, most of which end up in the hands of potential employers, volunteer agencies, schools or private agencies or institutions. Although some of these background checks will only reveal criminal records – records of convictions for which a person has not received a pardon – many delve much deeper. These deeper background checks, sometimes called “Police Information Checks”, frequently disclose a wide range of non-conviction information. This can include withdrawn charges, acquittals or even complaints where charges were never laid. Non-criminal interactions, such as experiences with police due to mental health needs, are also recorded in police databases and may be disclosed on background checks.
CCLA is actively advocating for significant changes in the way that police, employers, volunteer agencies, etc. deal with non-conviction records. We believe that this is an issue that directly prejudices the presumption of innocence, individual privacy, dignity, and equality. There is an urgent need for greater fairness and clarity in the police background check process. Mechanisms should be established that place tighter controls on the disclosure of non-conviction information. Our key recommendations include:
- Non-conviction records should be regularly reviewed and destroyed in the overwhelming majority of cases.
- Non-conviction records should be retained for inclusion in a police background check only in exceptional cases where police believe that doing so is necessary to reduce immediate public safety threats. The decision to treat a case as an exceptional one should be done at the time that the non-conviction record is created; i.e., immediately after the charge is dismissed, withdrawn or otherwise resolved by way of a non-conviction.
- Where the government requests that a decision be made whether to retain a non-conviction record, the affected individual should be notified and provided with a right to make submissions.
- If it is decided that retention is appropriate in a given case, the affected individual should have a right of appeal in front of an independent adjudicator.
- Where non-conviction records are retained, they should be disclosed only in relation to certain employment or volunteer positions.
- Proper monitoring mechanisms regarding the use and impact of all forms of police background checks should be put in place, including adequate data collection and public reporting.
- Provincial human rights legislation should protect individuals from unwarranted discrimination on the basis of non-conviction disposition records.
Have you been prejudiced by a non-conviction record? We are currently looking to hear from individuals whose lives have been impacted by this issue. Find out more about this project or get in touch with Abby Deshman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want the police to expunge your non-conviction record? Check out our FAQ on non-conviction records and the general procedure to ask the police to expunge your record.