This article is under review.
You had trouble with the law and are wondering what kind of record this leaves? This article explains:
- criminal records
- the effects of a suspension (pardon) or a discharge
- other records showing that you faced criminal charges, even though you weren’t convicted
What is a criminal record?
“Criminal record” usually means the information kept by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) about people accused of a crime. This information is kept in a computerized file managed by the RCMP.
A person’s criminal record contains the charges and convictions against that person. The RCMP also keeps information about the person’s identity, such as fingerprints or DNA.
No criminal record just for getting a ticket
You’ll have a criminal record only if you’ve been accused of a crime and your fingerprints were taken. A crime is breaking a federal law such as the Criminal Code or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Breaking a provincial law doesn’t lead to a criminal record. For example, you won’t have a criminal record with the RCMP just because you broke Quebec’s Highway Safety Code or a municipal by-law.
A criminal record can have an impact on many areas of your life. To learn more, read our article Impact of a Criminal Record.
Discharge: a temporary criminal record
If you have been granted a discharge, there will still be a note in your RCMP file stating that you were found guilty. But the RCMP will automatically seal your record:
- after one year if it was an absolute discharge, or
- three years after your probation ends if it was a conditional discharge.
After the one- or three-year period, information in your record can’t be disclosed except in specific circumstances, such as if your fingerprints were found at the scene of the crime.
Important! If you were granted a discharge before July 24, 1992, your record is not automatically sealed. You must send a written request to the RCMP. To learn more, visit the RCMP website.
Even if your criminal record at the RCMP is sealed, you must take other steps to remove information about your trouble with the law from other records. These steps are explained in the next section.
What is a discharge?
A judge might decide not to sentence a person who is found guilty. Instead, the judge can grant a discharge.
A person can get an absolute or conditional discharge.
A conditional discharge includes an order for the person to follow conditions (e.g., not take drugs, not contact the victim). The person must follow these conditions for the time set by the judge. This is called a probation order.
An absolute discharge means no conditions are ordered
A discharge doesn’t automatically let you travel to another country. To learn more, read our article Impact of a Criminal Record.
Accused but not convicted: steps to erase records
Information about charges against you might still be available in police files, court files and with the RCMP even in these situations:
- You received a discharge.
- You were found not guilty (acquitted).
- The charges against you were withdrawn or the court proceedings were stopped.
In all three situations, you must file an “application for non-disclosure of information contained in computerized records in criminal matters” at the courthouse to make sure the information about you is removed from the public records of the court (known as the “plumitif” in Quebec). The form tells you how long you must wait before filing the application.
You can also send a request to the police station to destroy the fingerprints and photo of you they have on file. They will then send your request to the RCMP. A lawyer can help you with this request.
Important! Court decisions are public and are often accessible online. So, information about criminal charges you faced may still be accessible, even if you were found not guilty.
A criminal record suspension limits access to your criminal record
If you’re found guilty, your criminal record doesn’t disappear, even after many years.
But after some time, you can usually ask for a suspension of your record (used to be called a pardon) to have your criminal record set apart from other criminal records by the RCMP. This means that the information in your record will not be accessible except in rare situations. To learn more, read our article Criminal Record Suspensions.
Free and faster procedure for people convicted of cannabis possession
People convicted only of simple cannabis possession are eligible to apply for a criminal record suspension right away, that is, without having to wait the usual five or 10 years. The application is free. The forms and instructions can be downloaded from the Government of Canada website.
Youth records are automatically sealed after a certain time. A request for suspension is not necessary. To learn more, read our article What Is a Youth Record?
To learn more about criminal records and other records of criminal charges, contact Alter Justice, a non-profit organization offering free support and assistance services (service in English may vary).