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Criminal Records in Canada



There is no easy way to legally determine if someone has a criminal record in Canada.

When convicted, the person's criminal record will be read into the court record, thereby putting his or her record in the public domain. This also occurs frequently at a bail hearing.

The average person might think that this would make it easy to find out about someone's criminal past, but it does not. Unless you are in court when the criminal record is read aloud, a great deal of effort, patience, and perseverance are required to obtain the information.

Criminal records are only recorded centrally at the Canadian Police Information Center (CPIC) which is run by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. CPIC records are not accessible to the public. Only police forces have legal access to these records. You may have a friend who is a police officer but to obtain a person's criminal record in this fashion is a criminal offense in itself, for both people involved.

This leaves the court system as the only real source of information about a person's criminal record. If you know the person was charged, and you can find the police officer in charge of the case, you can usually find out when and where the first court appearance was. Most police officers will provide the date of the first appearance if it is not too inconvenient to look it up.

With the date of the first appearance you will still have to follow the case until the sentencing. Armed with the sentencing date and the court room in which it occurred you can go through the process of locating the court reporter if you do not attend in person.

The court reporter can provide a copy of the transcript, but this is expensive. If a transcript has been made in the past, it will cost at least $0.55 per page. If no previous copy of the transcript has been made, it will cost at least $3.20 per page. Most transcripts are about 80 to 100 pages long. Occasionally you can persuade the court reporter to only transcribe the portion containing the criminal record. The court reporter may then take a week to deliver the transcript, depending on the work load he or she is under.

All the foregoing assumes that a conviction is registered. If there is an acquittal, the person's criminal past will not be read into the court record unless there was a bail hearing, and this would only occur for a rather serious offense. If the convicted person has since obtained a pardon there will not be any record of the conviction.

Is there any other way of finding out if a person has a record? Not really. Newspaper accounts and other third party sources only indicate that a person was in court and may have been convicted for an offense.

Criminal Background Checks

Background checks for criminal activity are often done for several reasons:

  • Job Applications
  • Security Clearance
  • Emigration

For example, many truck companies complete checks to ensure their trucks will not be seized at the border because the driver has a criminal record. The Access to Information Act permits an individual to apply for a copy of his or her criminal record. This may be done in one of two ways.

The first is done by providing a certified copy of the person's fingerprints. The report will show all the particulars, including the disposition and whether or not there was an acquittal or dismissal. If the offence was committed abroad, there will be no record. Also, if prints were taken at the time of the offence and not sent to Ottawa, there will be no record.

The CPIC system includes Conditional and Absolute Discharges prior to July 1992. However, after July 1992 time limits were placed on Conditional Discharges of 3 years and Absolute Discharges of 1 year. After these periods they are removed from the system.

The second method of acquiring one's criminal record is not as reliable. The applicant may request a copy of his record based upon a computer inquiry using his name and date of birth. Of course this may not disclose offences where the accused's name is different from the one provided. The report will only include offences for the exact surname and the first four characters of the given name. This method is called a Police Certificate. 

The Applicant must appear in person with two of the following forms of identification: passport, citizenship certificate, birth certificate, or driver's licence. This is required under either the federal Privacy Act or the Access to Information Act or both.

If no record is found a certificate is issued. If a record is found for the applicant, or a very similar name or date of birth and name, fingerprints will be requested to determine if the applicant is the same person recorded in CPIC.


Criminal Court Records -- Ontario

When ordering documents from the criminal courts in Ontario please keep in mind that summary conviction Informations are only kept for seven years. Indictments are kept for forty years. Trial transcripts are normally kept for three years.

Revised: 30/06/2006

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