According to the Canadian Department of Public Safety, approximately 3.8 million Canadians have a criminal record. This number includes people who have been convicted of criminal acts, but you may be surprised to learn it also includes those whose charges were later dropped or dismissed, because those charges remain on your record as “non-conviction information”.

Having a record can be an obstacle to work and travel, and may affect you in ways that may not immediately occur to you. It is possible to discover you have a record you didn’t even know about for something that happened years ago. Once you find out you have a record, you may not be quite sure what to do, what it is for, or if it is possible to get rid of it.

When a person is convicted of a crime, under certain circumstances and after some time has passed it is often possible to get a pardon or record suspension of their criminal record. A similar process is available if your record contains “non-conviction information” due to charges that were dismissed, withdrawn, stayed or that resulted in a stay of proceedings or an acquittal.

Knowledge is power, and understanding legal terms and procedures is the first step to clearing your name and putting your past to rest.

What’s the Difference Between Dismissed and Dropped Charges

Having a charge dismissed, withdrawn, dropped or acquitted basically means that you are no longer charged. This should be good news, and it is. However, even though your charges have been dismissed or dropped, you most likely still have a criminal record. The information that you were charged in the past will still appear on your record whenever a criminal record check is done.

What are Dismissed Charges

  • What happens when a case is dismissed? If a case has been dismissed, it means that the case made it to a trial in court. However, during the trial, the judge has decided (usually for a lack of evidence), not to allow the case to continue.

What are Dropped Charges

  • When a charge is dropped, it means that the charge was not filed and the case never went to trial. This can happen for various reasons, for instance, new evidence could have come to light that cleared the suspect, or the prosecution could have decided not to go forward with the charges for whatever reason.

Do Criminal Charges Stay on Your Record

Whether your charge has been dismissed or dropped, the charge will still appear on your criminal record unless it has been cleared.

Even if you have done nothing wrong, having a criminal record may cause issues when:

  • Applying for a job
  • Borrowing money
  • Renting a home
  • Traveling out of the country
  • Wanting to do volunteer work
  • Adopting a child

Though there are steps that you can take if you face challenges as a result of non-conviction information being released and used by an agency to justify discriminatory action against you, these challenges do arise.

A criminal record is not just limited to convictions. You may be arrested, charged and later released without any penalty and still have a record. Information related to dismissed or dropped charges is called “non-conviction information” and may or may not be released to someone requesting a background check. Often the type and amount of your information that is released changes depending on what type of request was made.

In Ontario, there are three types of Criminal Record Checks:

  1. Criminal Record Check
  2. Criminal Record and Judicial Matters Check
  3. Vulnerable Sector Check

Depending on who is requesting the information and which type of record check is done, different types of information may be disclosed.
The only way to know for sure if your record is clear is to request your own criminal record check. If you have a criminal record, in many cases, there are steps you can take to have your record cleared.

How to Clear Your Criminal Record

It is usually possible to clear your criminal record, but of course, there are waiting periods and certain restrictions apply. In any case, the first step is to obtain a copy of your criminal record.

If You Have A Conviction

Under the normal process, if you want to clear a conviction, you must apply for a pardon, also known as a record suspension. This is done through an application to the Parole Board of Canada. There are some offences, such as a conviction for a sexual offence against a minor, or those convicted of more than three indictable offences who are ineligible to apply for criminal record suspensions.

If Your Charge has been Dropped or Dismissed

There is a separate process to clear the criminal records of people whose charges were dropped or dismissed. There is usually no need to go through the more extensive process of receiving a pardon or record suspension.

According to the RCMP website, “To request the destruction of non-conviction information you need to apply to the police service or RCMP detachment that laid the original charge.” If they approve your request, they will then contact the RCMP to request the destruction of the information.

It is possible for this request to be denied for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Your record indicates an immediate public safety threat;
  • You have a criminal convocation on file for which you have not received a record suspension.

If your request is denied, there is an appeal process available.

If you have a record for an offence under the Young Offenders Act or the Youth Criminal Justice Act, different rules apply. Generally, records of “non-conviction information” from a youth record are automatically destroyed or archived once all the applicable time periods have passed.

At the time this was written, new federal legislation (Bill C-31) that affects the rules around pardons and record suspensions, was in the process of being considered by the House of Commons. This is a reminder that the law is always evolving. Fees, terminology and other requirements may change, so it is important to ensure you have the most up to date information.

Takeaway

A criminal record is not limited to convictions, it can also contain “non-conviction information”. Any prior charges can remain on your record unless you take steps to clear them. The only way to know for sure if your record is clear is to request your own criminal record check. If you have a criminal record, in many cases, there are steps you can take to have your record cleared.

If you have questions about criminal records, how to clear a record or receive a pardon, in the Kingston, Ontario area call RBHF Professional Corporation at 613-546-2147 or contact us to speak with an experienced criminal law lawyer.