New police check law puts further restrictions on young offender records

New rules governing what police are allowed to include in background checks could help more northerners move on from their criminal past.

New provincial law requires summary convictions dropped from record after 5 years

The Greater Sudbury Police get about 12,000 requests for a background check every year. (Erik White/CBC)

New rules on what police are allowed to include in background checks could help more people in northern Ontario move on from their criminal past.

One of the biggest changes in the law, which took effect Nov. 1, sees any crime committed as a young offender remain permanently private and not included in any future background checks. 

The only exception is for someone who is currently under 18 and applying to work or volunteer with the government.

Frankie Plante, the customer service release of information supervisor for Greater Sudbury police, says many were surprised that this had to be included in the new law.

"Everyone's under the understanding that youth records would never go on a record check, but that wasn't the case before," she says. 

"We were actually breaching or working against the Youth Criminal Justice Act. I'm certain these youth are handing over criminal records to people who aren't permitted to see them."

Frankie Plante is the customer service release of information supervisor. (Erik White/CBC)

One of the other big changes is with the vulnerable sector check or level 3 check.

It includes past convictions and current court orders, like the lower level background checks, but it also includes "exceptional disclosure" which includes information about police investigations and charges that didn't result in conviction.

Plante says in the past this only covered sexual crimes, but it now includes any crime involving a vulnerable person when the person requesting the police check is looking to work with children, seniors or people with a disability. 

Risk management?

So, if you were applying for a job at a nursing home, an alleged fraud against seniors might show up on your record, where another case of possible fraud might not. 

Greater Sudbury police did 12,173 background checks in 2017, up from 10,868 in 2014. 

About 70 per cent of those checks are the vulnerable sector checks that cost $33. 

"It's expanded dramatically I would say in the last 10 years," says Plante.

"I've had people ask 'Does my 12-year-old need a record check?'"

John Rimore is the executive director of the John Howard Society in Sudbury. (Martha Dillman/CBC)

John Rimore, executive director of  the John Howard Society of Sudbury, is pleased the new law also requires less serious crimes known as summary convictions to be dropped from a record after five years.

He says several people come into his office every week saying they can't get a job because they were convicted of a minor theft or public mischief decades earlier. 

But Rimore feels that background checks are not being used as intended. 

"They're using the police record check as a predictor of whether or not a person will commit a future crime. They're using it for risk aversion and risk management," Rimore says.

Police checks are now commonly asked for in university and job applications and by non-profit groups seeking volunteers.

Volunteer Sudbury says the only organization it works with that doesn't require them for all volunteers is Habitat for Humanity, but that's only for certain positions that don't involve interacting with the public. 

Sometimes requiring a volunteer to get a background check and pay for it can make it tough to recruit unpaid help, especially for one-off events like hockey tournaments. 

Scouts Canada requires its 20,000 volunteers (including 286 in northern Ontario) to have a vulnerable sector check done every three years.

But director of communications Kayleigh Kanoza says scouters and other volunteers also have to do an interview and training courses before they come on board.

"While [background checks] are important they're not the only component of our program to make sure our youth are safe," says Kanoza, adding that Scouts Canada works hard to create a "culture of safety."

About the Author

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca