Would a police record check cost you a job? The answer might surprise you


A 17-year-old woman is caught by the police with an open can of beer. The police officer drives the kid home with no ticket issued or charges laid. She is released into the care of her parents. Three years later, the young woman applies for a police record check in preparation for a volunteer position at her neighbourhood elementary school. The check comes back with a box ticked indicating that she may have had a negative encounter with the police. The elementary school declines her application to volunteer.

Two brothers get into an argument, which becomes heated. Family members are unable to deescalate the situation themselves, so they call the police for support. The police attend, stabilize the situation, and depart the scene. No charges are laid. Six months later, one of the brothers, an emergency medical technician, is getting his license renewed, and the incident appears on his police record check.

A young woman calls her friend and informs him that she is about to commit suicide. He immediately calls 911. The police attend, and take the young woman into custody under the Mental Health Act. She receives treatment and, several years later, is doing very well and has had no further contact with the police. She applies for a job as a dental hygienist and is rejected because her police record makes note of a mental health incident attended by the police.

Although these scenarios are entirely fictional, they are consistent with reports we get on a regular basis from individuals surprised to discover their “criminal records” are not as clear as they thought.

For some jobs and volunteer positions, you need to get a background check from your local police department.

Increasingly, such checks are being requested by potential employers from a broad range of sectors beyond those working specifically with vulnerable individuals. Most people refer to these checks as “criminal record checks”. They don’t think twice about sending one to a potential employer, thinking “I don’t have a criminal record, so I have nothing to worry about.”

Criminal record checks: So much more than convictions

What a lot of people don’t know, however, is that most of the time, this check is not actually a criminal record check; these police information checks actually turn up far more than just someone’s criminal record.

According to a recent document produced by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for B.C., “in addition to showing whether an individual has prior convictions or outstanding charges, a police information check also includes non-conviction records such as:

  • warrants for arrest;
  • peace bonds or restraining orders in effect;
  • information about adverse police contact;
  • charges approved by Crown Counsel that do not result in convictions;
  • information related to the Youth Criminal Justice Act; and
  • information about an individual’s mental health.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Assocation has three main objections to the disclose of non-conviction information as the practice currently stands

1) It is an unwarranted invasion of privacy

Employers are limited by law to collecting potential employees’ personal information only to the extent that it relates directly to their employment. The breadth of information currently disclosed as part of police information checks goes far beyond the sort of information that is directly related to the majority of employment and volunteer positions.

2)     It is a violation of an individual’s right to be innocent until proven guilty

This right is absolutely fundamental to the functioning of our justice system. But police information checks include information related to allegations that have never been proven in court. Potential employers or volunteering organizations frequently perceive an individual with “negative contact” on their record as having been involved in criminal activity, even though such an individual may never even have been charged, let alone convicted.

3)     It contributes to the deeply entrenched social stigma around mental health issues, and increases the chances that an individual will be discriminated against due to mental illness

Canadian human rights laws forbid discrimination on the basis of mental health status. The inclusion of mental health information in police information checks increases the likelihood that these individuals will be discriminated against by potential employers. By including mental health incidents in background checks, the unacceptable association between mental health and criminality is reinforced. This practice contributes to the insupportable stereotype that those with mental illness are a danger to society.

The release of mental health information on police information checks also acts as a disincentive for individuals in crisis to reach out to the police for help. It is outrageous that individuals are currently forced to risk becoming forever stigmatized in order to get the emergency help they need.

The BCCLA has heard dozens of stories of individuals rejected for jobs and volunteer opportunities because of non-conviction information on police information checks. Individuals who have never been charged with a criminal offense or engaged in criminal activity of any kind are unable to find employment because of their inability to secure a “clear” police information check, despite the fact that in many cases they have done absolutely nothing wrong.

Furthermore, there is no meaningful process for getting this information removed or supressed from one’s record. Individuals can contact their local police detachment and request that information is removed, but in our experience, these requests are rarely successful.

The release of non-conviction information on police information checks is costing innocent people jobs. And there is very little that they can do about it.

For years, the government has shown little interest in addressing this shocking situation, despite pressure from the BCCLA and other concerned groups and individuals. But the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for B.C.  recently announced an investigation into the use of police information checks, and we are hopeful that commissioner Elizabeth Denham will recommend significant changes to current practices. She has invited public input as part of her investigation. The BCCLA will be making its voice heard by making a written submission, and we hope you will do the same.

How to make a submission to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner’s investigation

If you have been negatively impacted by a police information check, or believe as we do that this practice as it currently stands is a violation of civil liberties, now is your chance to make your voice heard. Email your input to info@oipc.bc.ca no later than February 21, 2014.

The Privacy Commissioner’s call for public comment is available here.

That document includes background information on the issue of police information checks as well as guidelines for submissions.

The BCCLA is also compiling stories of individuals whose lives have been negatively impacted by the disclosure of non-conviction information on police information checks. Tell us your story or send us a copy of your submission to the Privacy Commissioner by emailing alyssa@bccla.org.

Comments (9) Add New Comment
Vince Kelly
It's one of the reasons why I'm self employed. No criminal record checks, no EI, no workers compensation and NO TAXES.
Rating: +4
My first thought while reading this was, "I guess that's why our parents told us to keep our 'noses clean' when we were kids." But, in reading further, that thought fades. It's a little scary to think that when the police were called to my house - by a caring neighbour hearing my belligerent, out-of-control, abusive (now-ex)boyfriend in another rage - that perhaps I might be denied employment for a subsequent records check. Something to really ponder.
Rating: +9
The police have more power than the judiciary. This has to be reined in. Non conviction data must be regularly purged from police AND provincial court databases and not used to unfairly discriminate against people. The unregulated Police Information Check system is getting out of hand all across the country. The presumption of innocence must be fully protected.
Rating: +2
Isabelle Guns
The ironic thing is that whomever is requesting these criminal checks (HR in companies, most likely has a record themselves). There's a lot of misunderstanding as to what is and isn't on the report. Those in HR don't understand this and when they read the report aren't given the real black and white information. Also some HR'sd use the criminal record check as an excuse not to hire someone. When a company has asked for my criminal record check I usually decline, however, have been up front of any and all instances that I've had with the police and have explained that police reports show EVERYTHING and that what they're actually concerned about will be drowned in the data of everything else. Unless you're working in a bank or with children there is no real reason why a criminal check needs to be done. I've only been checked twice in the 16 years I've been working and that is 'cause my job involved children.
Rating: 0
A company has the right to hire whomever they wish as long as they don't violate anyone's rights. If you have a police record and they don't want to hire you, they did not violate your rights. Enough with the leftist whining already!!!
Rating: -9
@Vince Kelley, funny thing - I'm self employed and I pay lots of taxes. Are you cooking the books??? You can expect a communication from the CRA soon. Hope your books are clean.
Rating: -2
Martin Dunphy

As the article clearly states, this is not about "police records" involving criminal convictions.
I imagine anyone would "whine", "leftist" or not, if they were denied jobs because a cop happened to take down their names a few years previous while asking questions at the scenes of an accident or commotion with which they had no connection.
Rating: 0
No Canadian should be subjected to this.Isn't the Government satisfied with how utterly miserable they make life for us.
Rating: +1
Yes, and if an employer finds out that a prospective employee goes to Mosque/Synagogue/Temple/Church/Whatever, he is surely justified in declining to hire on the basis of that record, amirite?

The issue is that labor is regulated and there are requirements imposed upon all employers in BC. Now, I hope you are mature enough to know that political rights, like minimum wages, anti-discrimination policies, etc. are things that we have created---they didn't just spring up out of the ground. What the adults are doing is having a conversation about just what our rights should be. Most reasonable people understand that it is inappropriate for unelected bodies to maintain dossiers on people if those people have not been convicted of a crime. How much money is wasted maintaining these files that serve no purpose other than to enable fascists to discriminate in their typical fascist way? "Is it like me? No? MUST BE BAD!!!"

All in all, I will take "leftist whining" to your fascist whining about "leftist whining" any day.
Rating: -1
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