Senator Kim Pate, an Independent Senator from Ontario, has introduced legislation into the Senate that seeks to set up a system of record expiry for criminal convictions.
Bill S-214, which was introduced to the Senate on February 18 and was discussed at second reading on February 20 and June 25, seeks to address an increasingly cumbersome and overloaded system of criminal records for Canadians.
The bill seeks to improve upon Canada’s current system of record suspensions or pardons, by implementing a system of automatic record expiry for charges that are older than two years summary conviction and five years indictable, as long as there were no additional charges in that time.
This improves upon the changes made by last year’s Bill C-93 for expedited cannabis record suspensions, as well as 2018’s Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act that allowed for record expungement for LGBT criminal records. Both approaches have not seen widespread use by the general public, with only a relative handful of citizens applying under either approach.
One of the most significant barriers to accessibility in the current system is cost.Senator Kim Pate
This means that the onus to apply for a record suspension is no longer on the person who has already served their time and moved on with their lives, says the Senator, while also removing some of the burden on the criminal justice system that is currently having to manage several forms of record suspension requests and record expungements.
“Our entire system is supposed to be based on the fact that once somebody has completed their sentence and lives in the community and is working to try and contribute to the community, that they should have an opportunity to move on,” the Senator told StratCann. “So we recommend that we provide individuals with that opportunity.”
In her opening speech to the Red Chamber, Senator Pate notes that Canada’s criminal Records Act was implemented 50 years ago as a way to provide for pardons for those Canadians who have served their time and are ready to move on with their lives.
CPIC would then serve as the centralized record system required to support automated record expiry, without the need for an application by the individual.Senator Kim Pate
Over time, she says, the system of providing for pardons, now referred to as record suspensions, has become convoluted and burdensome, both for Canada’s criminal justice system, as well as for those Canadians who are seeking to have their record cleared. The system is increasingly costly and difficult to navigate.
“One of the most significant barriers to accessibility in the current system is cost,’ Senator Pate said in the Senate when she introduced the bill. “The cost of a record suspension has soared from the cost of a postage stamp to submit the application (in 1950) to $50 in 1995, then to $150 in 2010, and then to $631 in 2012. This does not include the additional costs such as fingerprinting and obtaining original copies of records that can add hundreds of dollars. An automatic cost-of-living increase will add another $13 this April, and in the not too distant future fees may exceed $1,500.”
While Bill C-93 partially addressed some of these issues for those with cannabis possession charges by removing the $631 fee and a ten year wait time, it still means many hurdles for those applying, namely the cost of fingerprinting and seeking out those records. This is because of Canada’s archaic, outdated record keeping method where there is no one, single, online database of all criminal charges, meaning many arrest records are kept in courthouses and with police record keepers in the jurisdictions where the charges were originally laid.
This outdated, paper-based system, as well as the nature of how cannabis possession charges are recorded only as generic drug charges, was also part of why C-93 didn’t offer automatic record expungements for cannabis charges. This new legislation would change that, as well.
When it was passed last year, then Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale even pointed out that the bill dealt “with only one small part of the pardon process that is in need of broader reform”
In addition to providing for these automatic record suspensions, the proposed legislation also seeks to address this issue of Canada’s often archaic criminal record system, by requiring all new charges or re-opened chargers to be entered into the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC).
“Bill S-214 will allow us to resolve the concerns emerging from the study of Bill C-93 by our Legal Committee and this chamber,” she told her fellow Senators earlier this year. “This bill includes a provision to ensure that when criminal records are disclosed, they are all registered with the RCMP’s Canadian Police Information Centre database, otherwise known as CPIC. CPIC would then serve as the centralized record system required to support automated record expiry, without the need for an application by the individual.”
One of the things we hope is that will see a renewed interest in looking at the many individuals who, not just because of criminal, but because of poverty, because of systemic discrimination, start off in an unequal position, and as the pandemic has revealed very starkly, the inequalities in our country, I’m hoping that this is one of many that we will see remedied going forward.SENATOR KIM PATE, ONTARIO
Senator Pate says the changes are part of larger, much needed social justice reforms in Canada that can recognize and alleviate the systemic inequality that different criminal charges can represent. As part of this, she has also introduced another set of criminal justice reform, Bill C-208, that seeks to provide more room for judges to impose sentences outside the scope of mandatory minimums, a move that has the support of many social justice reform groups.
Although both sets of legislations were introduced prior to COVID-19, and as such has taken more of a back seat since that time, she says she is still confident there is interest in moving both of these issues forward soon.
“Prior to the pandemic there seemed to be growing support for it,” explains the Senator. “There are many other issues now that are in the forefront for people in terms of how we move forward rebuilding the social and economic and health safety nets, but part of that could certainly include the passage of Bill S-214.
“Whether or not it will happen in this session remains to be seen. I certainly remain supportive of it. But for instance, bill C-208, the other private bill we have that allow judges the discretion to not impose mandatory minimum penalties, particularly in light of the recommendations from the (Parliamentary) Black Caucus as well as the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, may in fact enjoy support sooner than this particular bill, but I think they go hand in hand.
“One of the things we hope is that will see a renewed interest in looking at the many individuals who, not just because of criminal, but because of poverty, because of systemic discrimination, start off in an unequal position, and as the pandemic has revealed very starkly, the inequalities in our country, I’m hoping that this is one of many that we will see remedied going forward.”