Strict privacy laws that limit access to the 4.2 million criminal records in the Canadian Police Information Centre to police and certain agencies make it almost impossible to obtain the criminal conviction record of an individual without their authorization.
The only legal method — used by journalists, researchers, companies and individuals — to learn of an individual’s criminal past is through court documents. This involves research at courthouses across the country, a labour-intensive process that often does not yield results. Only British Columbia and Quebec have online databases for court decisions that are open to the public — but these are limited to offences in the two provinces.
"In other words, if you want to find out if someone has a criminal record in Toronto, you have to know that they have a criminal record and know the date of their conviction; and then know the courthouse and then go there and find it," said Sandy Boucher, a senior investigator with the accounting and risk-management firm Grant Thornton. "In other words, it's ridiculous."
Right to check own record
However, under the Privacy Act, Canadians have the right to their own criminal record check, via written authorization and verification of his or her identity. This is usually done by the individual in person at a police station.
There are two kinds of RCMP criminal record checks:
- Name-based check. This requires the name and date of birth, as well other identifying details such as height and race. It is used to determine "the possible existence of a criminal record," according to the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC), and results in an "uncertified criminal record verification."
- Fingerprint based check. This is mostly requested when an individual is interested in working with school, youth or other "vulnerable sector organizations." This results in a "certified criminal record verification."
The RCMP charges a $25 processing fee and local police forces apply additional charges, as do accredited verification companies. This fee structure results in a total cost of approximately $60. Results don't include pardoned offences, juvenile offences or offences that resulted in a conditional discharge.
In the corporate world, individuals can also grant authorization to a company — such as a prospective employer or background checking firm — to conduct name-based or fingerprint based searches. Experts say these name-based searches are routinely conducted for employers, with the permission of a job applicant or new employee.