How criminal record checks can trip up people with no criminal record

People with no criminal records can still be tripped up by police releasing non-criminal data, says Alberta Civil Liberties research director Linda McKay-Panos.

Purging non-criminal records from police data can be challenging, says civil liberties spokesperson

Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre executive director Linda McKay-Panos says a criminal records check can prevent you from crossing the border, even if you don't have a criminal record. (CBC News)

People with no criminal records can still be tripped up by police releasing non-criminal data, says Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre director Linda McKay-Panos. It can prevent you from crossing the border or getting on a flight to the United States.

Jennifer Keene of The Calgary Eyeopener spoke to McKay-Panos about non-conviction records. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What is a non-conviction record?

A: Say, for example you were a witness to a crime, or the police interviewed you or perhaps there was a suicide check, which is not a crime. Any of those kinds of information could come out as a part of the release of documentation after you do the [criminal record] check.

Q: So police keep records of these interactions with you that may be non-criminal in nature? In what situation would that record be released?

A: It's completely up to the discretion of the police official, so they would determine that ... particular piece of data is of interest to the people  requesting the criminal record check.

Q: If I was, for example, applying for a volunteer position to a help line and the police had attended a suicide check, would they be likely to release that information to the help line folks?

A: I've known of several cases where all kinds of interesting data about people that doesn't seem relevant at all actually has been released as part of the criminal record check.

Q: Give us some examples of that.

A: One was a woman in Toronto who they [the police] had done a wellness check [on]... because they thought she was suicidal. A couple years later, when she went down to the States by plane, the U.S. border people had (access to) that data. It was shared with them by the police in Toronto, and she was not allowed to board that plane.

Q: Why do they disclose this information that has nothing to do with a criminal record?

A: Perhaps they feel that the information is somehow relevant to the employer or volunteer agency or whatever. But they don't realize ... that this is private information that they're storing on this person and that it could have significant consequences [for that individual if it is released].

Q: Could a person request their own non-conviction record?

A: You can't request that. You can just do (request) a criminal record check and hope that they would give you the same data that they would give somebody else.

Q: How difficult is it to expunge from the record?

A: The lawyers I've spoken to are finding it very difficult to do that. One could try to make a complaint to the privacy commission and see if that is possible. But as I said, the police have a great deal of discretion under the privacy law and that needs to be tightened up.​

With files fromThe Calgary Eyeopener