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The John Howard Society in Sault Ste. Marie helps clear the path for those with a criminal conviction who want to rebuild their lives

The John Howard Society will help eligible pardon-seekers navigate the complex and costly process of getting a record suspension

Individuals with criminal records who despite having served their sentences, often encounter stigma and barriers to employment, educational programs, volunteer opportunities, and even renting an apartment.

This kind of discrimination perpetuates a cycle of unemployment and economic marginalization. Jessica Caldwell is the Record Suspension Specialist at the John Howard Society in Sault Ste. Marie. She says, “For individuals with criminal records, securing employment is often an uphill battle. Many people with criminal records are eager to find employment but have been discouraged in the past due the increasing requirement for a background check. They want to move forward as productive members of society but find it nearly impossible to do so when their record prevents them from obtaining employment.”

What is a record suspension?

A record suspension, which used to be called a pardon, allows those convicted of a criminal offence, who’ve completed their sentence, and shown they’ve been law-abiding citizens for a specific period, to have their criminal record set aside. Caldwell says, “A record suspension removes a person’s criminal record from the Canadian Police Information Centre database and will not show up in a background check, giving individuals a better chance at getting a job and being accepted into educational programs that require a job placement.”

Background checks have become more common. Even if an individual’s offence occurred more than 20 years ago, information in a background check could come back to haunt them.

Application eligibility

The record suspension program is open to anyone who has a criminal record and has had no dealings with the justice system for the last 5 to 10 years.

A person may apply for a record suspension if convicted of an offence in Canada as an adult. There is a waiting period of between 5 and 10 years depending on the nature of the offence, when the offence was committed, and when the sentenced has been completed. Following changes to legislation in 2012, tighter restrictions were put into place for individuals convicted of sexual related offenses and multiple indictable offences.

If anyone is unsure about their eligibility, they are encouraged to reach out to the John Howard Society for more information. It is important to note that while someone can obtain a record suspension for sexual related offences, their records will still come up on a Vulnerable Sector check should they apply to work or volunteer with vulnerable populations.

Complicated and costly

An application for a record suspension can be a lengthy, complicated, and costly process. Caldwell says, “Every step has a cost and its own waiting period for a reply. It’s frustrating for people who want to put their past behind them as quickly as possible.” The application cost varies from person to person, depending on the documentation required, but the price is a minimum of $150.

In 2022-23, the Parole Board received 16,121 record suspension applications and accepted 11,617 as eligible and complete. More than 3200 applications were rejected due to ineligibility, missing payment, wrong processing fee, or missing documentation. But the John Howard Society of Sault Ste. Marie can assist individuals with the cost and the complexity of the application process.

John Howard Society can cover the costs

Jessica Caldwell’s role as a Record Suspension Specialist is to assist clients in navigating the application process by obtaining and completing the required documentation. Caldwell says, “It can often be an overwhelming process for individuals, so it can be beneficial to have the extra support as well as assistance with the fees.”

The John Howard Society of Sault Ste. Marie, along with the John Howard Societies in Sudbury and Thunder Bay are able to help individuals cover some, if not all the application costs with funding they’ve received from Public Safety Canada. Jessica

Caldwell says, “Fees totalling $150 or more may not be a lot to someone who is working but to someone who is unemployed, it could mean the difference between making an application and making the rent payment.”

This funding will make the record suspension process more affordable and accessible for those negatively impacted by a criminal record. Caldwell says, “I’ve been approached by individuals who are now in their retirement years who want to volunteer but their impaired driving conviction from decades earlier is preventing them from doing so. Their criminal record has been dragging them down for years and they want to set it aside and have a fresh start. When they hear about our application and funding assistance program, they want to proceed with the application now.”

The Parole Board of Canada is responsible for ordering, refusing, or revoking criminal record suspensions.

A record suspension will make it easier for individuals to gain employment, do volunteer work, secure housing, and seek educational opportunities that require placement. The stigma will be removed, and an individual will not be impeded by the financial and emotional barriers of their criminal conviction.

They will have the opportunity to build a productive future, lead a more fulfilling life, and contribute to society.

Contact Jessica Caldwell, Record Suspension Specialist at (705) 297-5513 or email: [email protected]

In Thunder Bay District, contact the John Howard Society of Thunder Bay, (807) 357-1448 Email: [email protected]

In Sudbury District contact John Howard Society of Sudbury at (705) 673-9576.