RCMP Changes Rules for Criminal Records Checks

Late last year, the RCMP changed its policy for access to criminal records information via the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC). Reputable companies, up until that point, had been able to obtain police records clearances through local police departments. These clearances were conditional upon the background checking company obtaining signed consent from the individual and making those consent forms available for spot audits. Provided the proper consent was obtained, background checking companies had been able to provide same-day results if the name, address and date of birth provided did not result in any “hits” in CPIC. In most cases, where there may be derogatory information, the individual would have to appear for fingerprinting so that his or her identity could be confirmed. This practice meant that those who had clear records could go on to the next stage of the process for their job application, volunteering application or whatever.

For records where a pardon has been granted for certain sexual offences, a notation is made in CPIC’s databases. It used to be that the police would provide, with the individual’s written consent, confirmation that no such notation exists provided that the person was being screened for working or volunteering with vulnerable populations.

These checks were facilitated by professional background screening companies, in cooperation with law enforcement, who would often be able to provide an “all clear” within the day.

Now, all screening requires fingerprints and about 120 days’ wait. The RCMP is saying that they are simply doing what the Criminal Records Act requires them to do. I don’t buy it. The Act says that the RCMP can disclose the existence of a notation if the person has provided written consent and the check is made for a paid or volunteer position that is one of authority or trust relative to children or vulnerable persons.

According to an article in today’s Globe & Mail, a number of volunteer-staffed organizations have cancelled programs because the 120 day wait cannot be accommodated. What may be worse, some organizations may be foregoing these checks and permitting unscreened people to work closely with vulnerable populations.

This is untenable, in my view. I’m not in favour of widespread criminal records checking where it is not relevant to the position, but these checks are very often relevant for certain employment or volunteer positions. Provided the person has provided clear, informed, unambiguous consent, there is no reason why an “all clear” can’t be given forthwith. I can understand that you would want to avoid the possibility of erroneously saying that a person has a criminal record or a pardoned sexual conviction, so the practice of fingerprinting should continue where there might be a “hit”. But where there is no reason to think a person has a record, that information should be provided right away.

Volunteerism is important. Silly policies should not have the effect of impeding volunteer efforts, nor should they discourage prudent screening that keeps predators away from the vulnerable.


  1. David;

    You say that you are, “… not in favour of widespread criminal records checking where it is not relevant to the position, but these checks are very often relevant for certain employment or volunteer positions.”

    I suspect that the number of positions for which these checks are relevant are vastly outnumbered by the number of positions for which a criminal records check is irrelevant.

    Since serious malefactors are likely to use false names in any event, and the false positive rate will be quite high for common names, it strikes me that this change in the rules is, on balance, a good thing.

    I stand ready to be corrected by actual data, but until then I’m comfortable that civilian access to criminal records checks is time consuming and a hindrance.


  2. I’d say both Wunderlich and I are at pretty low risk for a false positive on a name and date of birth query. John MacDonald and Jane Smith might be more concerned about being labeled a convicted criminal (pardoned nor not), even temporarily.

    A colleague and I were speculating about how many days out of the year a common Anglo-Canadian name like John MacDonald would produce a positive and both though it would be quite high. Anyone from the RCMP listening willing to produce this statistic?

    To prove a point I’m discounting middle names, which I assume are part of the standard name and d.o.b. query. In any event, I’d think most would agree a fast and reliable search would be ideal. Thanks for the post on this important topic David!


  3. This is such an absurd change in policy that one wonders what the economic justification might be for it – does the RCMP get to charge more of a fee, or retain more of the fee, if they cut out the private intermediaries? Does it save the RCMP staff time? (I would have thought the opposite.)

    Of course one has to be careful about what one consents to, or one could end up like the poor fellow whom the Ontario Court of Appeal recently condemned to a lifetime of unemployment, by holding that his consent to disclose his ‘record’ extended to disclosure of charges that had been withdrawn. Since he had been charged with offences against kids – charges later withdrawn – when that shows up, you can be sure he doesn’t get a lot of interviews…

  4. Thanks for the comments.

    I should also point folks to Dan’s comprehensive post on this topic, with links to the CPIC Policies and the RCMP’s justification on its management of CPIC here: New RCMP commitment to enforcement of background check policies squeezing Canadian employers.

  5. Individuals with record for things that they have done over ten years ago and that they have paid the fines and completed the sentences are still being punished by preventing them to obtain employment with these new rules. It was always my thought that Canada did not allow Double Jeopardy.

    Not only does the system prevent the safey of kids with volunteers that have not been checked but now causes people that have cleaned up and are living a clean life now with a full time job to loose the job since the security checks of some companies are yearly the new change with make individuals to fail new checks…

    Sad to say that the RCMP are pushing people back into crime just to put food on the table to feed their children… Thanks

  6. What it boils down to is whether or not you believe any job or occupation for that matter necessitates a record check.

    If you do not believe that they are required at all then ask yourself the value you place on positions such as police, public officials, or any persons of public trust. Can you live without concerning yourself about the personal security and well being of you and/or the important people around you? These are honest questions that we all need to ask ourselves?

    If you do believe at all that it is necessary, then problem arise such as how they are classified and rated. Who should be allowed to use this information and for what? What do you constitute as a public security risk and for which occupations? Should some crimes automatically be public record ie: child molestation? Should there be an expiry date on petty crimes? Should overturned verdicts or with-drawn charges be stricken from record? Mandatory finger prints, DNA sampling, retina scans, etc. etc. The questions are many.

    Public security has long become a fact of life in the modern world. Much more public and government debate and action is required to ensure that in the end, society fairly balances public privacy with public protection.

  7. I recently had this happen to myself. I was shocked and a little angry now I have to go through another process and pay out some more money to my city region and the federal government. I can’t help but wonder if this new change is really for the protection of others or simply a new way of getting money out of Canadians.

  8. I am being greatly affected by this as well. Recently, I completed the required courses to become a real estate sales rep. To become registered in Ontario a simple background check is required. I went to the Toronto Police and paid $30 to do this and was informed two weeks later that I had to send fingerprints to the RCMP in Ottawa ($80 – $55 to a Red Seal Notary and $25 to the RCMP). Finally, after doing research online and a helpful officer here in Toronto, I am told this is because of something that happened 24 years ago where I was charged and fingerprinted but the charges were dropped before ever going to court. I am being treated like a criminal and I am 42 with no convictions! Now I have learned that I will not receive this confirmation for a time period in excess of 120 working days! How am I supposed to make a living? This law is seriously hindering me as a law abiding citizen trying to earn a living, not to mention making me feel like a common criminal. I suggest that anyone that has been charged without conviction apply to have your file destroyed(another $50 cash grab), I was never informed that this was possible. Furthermore, I strongly urge people to sign this petition so more law abiding citizens of Canada are not treated as criminals by an unfair law.


  9. It is not a match of name and birthdate, it is a match of either or. If you name matches you get fingerprinted, if your birthdate with year and sex matches you get finger printed.

    And as a organizer of volunteers I understand the process however the cost has volunteers walking away because they can`t afford the out of pocket and organizations that are non profit can`t afford the additional cost. This is the hard part of the process now schools an non profits are going to lose volunteers.

  10. I just received a criminal check where I was deemed a “hit” by way of a sexual offense. After questioning the odds of a female with the same birth date,and similar name being connected with a sexual offender, I was then told that the record checker at the police department just used a birth date, “because anyone can change their name”. Is that really a common policy everywhere? The Health care Organization where I am trying to volunteer said they would reimburse me, but it just doesn’t seem right that they pay that much and wait that long for me to get fingerprinted, just because I share the same birth date as another female with a sexual offense. Does a social insurance number not become a factor at some point if your name isn’t relevant. I would appreciate any feedback about other cities’ procedures.

  11. I just found out about this major blunder today, and as a result I may lose my job! 19years ago I got busted smoking some pot and it still haunts me today. Who would have thought 2grams of weed would cause me to lose my job at 38 yrs of age! I need to travel to the US work, Department of Homeland Security requires me to get an annual US entry waiver from the nearing 20yr old drug charge, and part of the gruelling process is I need an annual record check. Up till now this was a 3week process, now finding out that my mid January submission won’t be complete until sometime in May there will be overlap in my entry waiver…. no entry waiver … no us travel……. no job! Absolute blind stupidity on who ever devised this plan! Proving further that as our government develops it becomes less and less effective in supporting its citizens! Petition you say??? Sign me up!

  12. The supreme court in 2002 ruled that the RCMP must expunge withdrawn or stayed charges from CPIC upon written request if it’s not in the public interest to keep your prints on file. I was surprised to find out that WITHOUT a conviction, records are NEVER destroyed from CPIC unless you make a written request. Thankfully, my prints were expunged from CPIC after I renewed my criminal record check and the RCMP clerk told me my prints were on file. I had been charged and printed in 2005. After the Sergeant further investigated the complaint against me, the charge was Stayed two days after it was laid and I thought it was the end of it. If you’ve ever been fingerprinted and NOT been convicted, it is important to request an expungement as you HAVE a record but the Cops will not go out of there way to tell you this. In fact, your prints are on file longer than the prints of criminals who were convicted and discharged unless you request an expungement.