Automated Sequestering of Criminal Records: Parameters for a Canadian Approach
Prepared by Don Lenihan
"It takes a second to get in, and a lifetime to get out."
Automated Sequestering of Criminal Records (ASCR) is an automated program by which a criminal record would be kept separate and apart from other criminal records, at no cost and without an application by the individual, after they have completed their sentence and certain additional conditions are met, as required by legislation.
ASCR is used in jurisdictions around the world, including 12 U.S. states, most Australian jurisdictions, New Zealand, Spain, the Netherlands, England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Ireland. The benefits claimed for the system include:
- Timely access to pardons and an increase in uptakes
- Removal of barriers that prevent eligible people from applying for a pardon such as illiteracy or the complexity of the applications process
- Removal of key barriers to employment, housing, school, volunteering, and other vital supports as individuals reintegrate into their communities
- Reduction in recidivism and improved public safety
Public Safety Canada (PSC) is considering whether ASCR is right for Canadians but feels it needs a better understanding of the benefits, its stakeholders' views, and issues related to implementation before deciding whether or how to proceed.
PSC thus engaged Kūwiingu-Néelwul Engagement Services (KES) to reach out to its stakeholders – including groups from law enforcement, advocates for marginalized and racialized individuals, and spokespersons for victims' rights – to explore and gather their views on the implications of adopting this system. This paper contains a synthesis and overview of what we heard from stakeholders through the engagement process.
The Engagement Process
The process included 10 virtual roundtables, as well as an online component, comprising a questionnaire, comment space, and submissions. The roundtables were held between April 21st and June 21st, 2022. We divided the sessions into two separate stages.
Stage 1 included 6 sessions and focused on listening to stakeholders to learn about their views. Each session brought together individuals from stakeholder groups concerned about similar themes and issues (but who often had different views of them).
Stage 2 included the final four sessions and engaged participants in a thoughtful discussion of implementation issues, centred on four key themes: eliminating bias, respecting privacy, informing people with criminal records about ASCR, and improving acceptance of individuals with criminal records.
Unlike Stage 1, these sessions included a greater mix of participants from different stakeholder groups to provide a wider range of responses to the proposals. 108 individuals attended the 10 sessions.
KES also worked with PSC to design an online platform containing background information on ASCR and the objectives of the project, as well as a questionnaire that could be completed by anyone who registered on the site. Registered participants could also provide written submissions.
The online questionnaire was available to the public and promoted through the virtual roundtables. The website was visited more than 2,000 times and the questionnaire was accessed more than 50 times, which, at the time of closing, had been completed by 31 individuals.
This report consolidates the findings from the virtual roundtables, as well as the questionnaire and written submissions. It contains a synthesis and overview of what we heard from the stakeholders. In constructing this synthesis, we've drawn freely on the different sources to identify and highlight key findings and used the language of "participants" and "the process" to refer to those who engaged in the various activities.
The Engagement Findings
Over the course of the engagement, participants identified, discussed, and largely agreed on, the following benefits of ASCR:
Individuals won't have to fill out endless forms, collect records, pay fees, hire lawyers, get fingerprinted, and so on. The removal of human discretion from record suspension decisions will reduce bias, resulting in more people in marginalized communities receiving record suspensions, helping them with housing, employment, citizenship and reducing recidivism.
ASCR will speed up the process and possibly eliminate or reduce the long wait times now in effect.
Families can be greatly impacted by the stigma from a criminal record. ASCR will lessen the burden of stigma on families. For example, some women have been unfairly co-charged along with an abusive partner. A quick and unbiased record suspension process could help restore fairness and reduce stigma.
However, if participants recognized these benefits, they also qualified most of them, in one way or another, as the discussions progressed, as we'll see at various points below.
Perhaps the strongest message to come through in this process is that the current record suspension system is designed to fail – especially for racialized and marginalized groups – because it ignores the close link between reintegration and record suspensions.
Most participants told us that a criminal record is a major obstacle to acquiring the things that others take for granted, such as meaningful employment, housing, and social acceptance. When they can find jobs, people with criminal records usually get lower pay. Housing is substandard and difficult to secure. The challenge of meeting basic human needs thus becomes a major obstacle to successful reintegration:
"When people are released from jail, they are supposed to reintegrate, but how can you find meaningful employment when everywhere you go, they do a criminal record check and then refuse to hire you? Finding a good job becomes impossible. You can only get minimum wage jobs and you can't care for your children on that."
Participants also agreed that recidivism often reflects a person's struggle to cope and survive – often just to feed themselves and their families.
"I've had a failed marriage, depression, and other mental health issues; my kids are bullied. When you're like this, people look down on you… I'm fed up, and exhausted."
Almost everyone agreed that stigma is key to understanding recidivism. Simply mentioning that someone has a record can make others see them as untrustworthy or as a threat to their safety and security. A criminal record, we were told, is not just a record of wrongdoing; it is an unlimited extension of their sentence.
The prospect of a record suspension, on the other hand, provides hope that the stigma can be purged, and life can return to normal:
"Pardon" is a strong word, and that's good. It suggests a level of forgiveness and that can mean a lot. It says to people that 'we accept you back' – and that matters."
Many of our participants want government to take a strong leadership role here; they want it to educate people about stigma; to help them understand that having a criminal record does not make someone a threat; and to improve the record suspension system so that offenders have a real chance to reintegrate into society.
A second key message from our participants is that the justice system and the suspension process are laden with systemic bias. For example, according to some participants, Black or Indigenous people are no more likely to commit criminal offences than white people, but they are far more likely to be arrested, which in turn means dealing with the police and likely getting entangled in the criminal justice system. Participants struggled with whether or how far ASCR could eliminate systemic bias.
At first, most of our participants enthusiastically supported ASCR's supposed potential to reduce systemic discrimination. They thought that, by removing individuals from the decision-making process, automation would remove bias and strengthen impartiality. They also thought that this would benefit marginalized people, which was their main reason for supporting it. However, as the discussions progressed, concerns surfaced over whether ASCR might simply entrench some of the biases already at work in the existing system.
Take the idea of good conduct. To receive a record suspension for a criminal conviction, the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) must decide that a candidate is of "good conduct," which is defined by law as "behaviour that is consistent with and demonstrates a law-abiding lifestyle." Our participants raised concerns about this practice. As one asked, "who decides on the tests or criteria that the Parole Board uses to assess whether this condition has been met?" The answer to this question is that the Parole Board is guided by an official list of the types of information and documentation that should be used to assess good conduct, which is contained in the Decision-Making Policy Manual for Board Members. However, such criteria, asserted one participant, are often biased against marginalized groups. Take addiction: it is an illness that requires treatment, she said, yet it is also a criterion for assessing good conduct. Why should a person with an illness be denied a record suspension?
Another participant noted that record checks typically disclose pending charges. Raising them in this context, they said, is unfair to marginalized groups. Research shows not only that they are more likely to face charges than other Canadians, but to be charged with indictable rather than summary offences.
Most participants agreed that any effort to include and assess, say, incidents of police charges or allegations against members of marginalized groups is fraught with risk and should be rejected. In their view, there is only one acceptable standard: Until charges laid result in a conviction, the rule of "innocent until proven guilty" should apply.
The same applies to people with health issues, such as addiction, or mental illnesses. They are often denied pardons because of encounters with the law. Even though no crime or conviction may be involved, the encounter is taken as evidence of bad conduct.
While few were surprised to discover that these biases are widespread in the record suspension system, participants worried that they might be incorporated into the automated system and wondered how or if this could be avoided.
Avoiding Complex Assessments – A Dual System?
One suggestion was that when governments develop the criteria for record suspensions for ASCR, they could consult with racialized groups to help them (officials) recognize and reduce biases in the system. In this view, the people who create and control the system are usually from the majority population and lack the lived experience of racialized groups. As a result, they may fail to see how a situation looks from the viewpoint of an accused.
Gladue principles are an example of an effort to incorporate lived experience. They can help a judge assess the impact of colonization from an Indigenous perspective, which can change how the judge weighs the issues. Although participants supported the idea of incorporating lived experience into the criminal justice system, most quickly rejected this approach for ASCR. Basically, the problem is that every case is different. Thus, assessing, say, how intergenerational trauma fits into a given situation requires a complex analysis of the circumstances around it. Programming a computer to conduct such an analysis would require vast amounts of information and long lists of criteria – which would become very complex very quickly. Moreover, the more rules and criteria that programmers add to an automated system, the greater the chance of error and/or of incorporating new biases. In effect, this is a formula for entrenching bias. In the end, perhaps the most important conclusion from these exchanges was that a fully automated system should avoid complexity and aim for simplicity. In this view, ASCR would involve a few basic eligibility criteria that are easily applied by a machine - in effect, a series of Yes/No questions, such as whether a person's sentence has been served, whether the wait period has been completed, and whether there are any further convictions.
Standards such as "good conduct" would be ruled out as too nuanced, complex, and controversial to have a useful role in ASCR, as would sets of cultural guidelines, such as the Gladue principles. Rather, this kind of assessment requires "eyes-on" – that is, human review and judgement. This in turn suggested the need for a "dual system," that is, one where ASCR is limited to crimes of a "less serious" nature and where there is wider agreement on a short list of criteria that guide the suspension review.
As for "more serious" crimes – such as those involving violence or the abuse of children – many participants felt these required human review and should continue to be reviewed by the Parole Board. Many of our participants found the idea of a dual system appealing. As one noted, having human judgement in the more serious cases has benefits. For example, it allows the Parole Board to show mercy where appropriate – something an automated system cannot do. They also found it noteworthy that most countries that use ASCR have a dual system that restricts full automation to something like summary offences.
Most of our participants liked the idea of simple criteria, however, not everyone supported a dual system. Some argued that this simply reintroduces the discredited idea of good conduct, with all its biases.
Our current sentencing system, they said, calls on the judge to deliver a sentence that fits the crime. Once the sentence has been served, the debt is paid and the person should not be stigmatized, which amounts to a second sentence that will follow them for years. Unless there is a new conviction, they insisted, we should always presume innocence.
They noted that a dual system also raises the question of which crimes fall under ASCR and which require human review. The idea that the government might confine ASCR to summary offences worried them. They saw this as an arbitrary and unacceptable way to draw this distinction. Instead of a dual system, these people therefore favoured the creation of a single, comprehensive ASCR system, based on the presumption of innocence. However, some added that, if the government is committed to a dual system, at the very least, it should take an evidence-based approach to deciding which crimes will be automated, one which carefully reviews and considers which ones carry a higher public risk.
Others worried about such a review. In their view, government should not spend too much time discussing how to make ASCR perfect before launching it. Otherwise, the process is likely to get bogged down in public debates and disagreements. They argued that the existing distinction between summary and indictable offences is already in place and therefore much easier to implement than reviewing each type of crime and drawing a whole new set of distinctions. Government should therefore push ahead quickly with a dual system, using the distinction between summary and indictable offences, but with a view to modifying this over time.
Operationalizing a new ASCR system raises some practical questions: Will the justice system reach out to each client to confirm that their case is being reviewed and to inform them of the result? Is it obliged to do so? Questions like these in turn raise concerns about personal privacy.
If someone's criminal status changes because of an ASCR review, most of our participants felt that the government has a responsibility to inform them – not least, so they can correctly fill out an application for a job or a lease for an apartment. But how should government communicate with them?
Some thought that a letter would be easiest. Others worried that if it went to the wrong address or the person had moved, the letter could fall into the wrong hands, putting the client's privacy at risk. This is especially worrying with transient populations. However, notifying homeless people poses a similar challenge. We heard that organizations who work with the homeless sometimes have ways of delivering a message to them or of verifying their identity and location. One suggestion was to enlist their help. While women's advocates raised concerns of a different sort. Survivors of assault or domestic violence often change their names, emails, phone numbers and so on. Releasing information about a trauma survivor can be extremely risky, possibly triggering a crisis in their lives. How will this be avoided?
Tax returns were proposed as a possible solution to some of these problems. They include people's contact information and as most people with criminal records have stable lives, the information should usually be reliable. The letter could be drafted so as not to disclose sensitive information, say, by stating only that an update is available and inviting the individual to check in with authorities to learn more.
But the more participants probed the issues the more they wondered if it was a mistake to expect government to inform clients of a review and/or a change in status. As one concluded, "maybe we shouldn't get too hung up on proactive notification." She was looking for an easy way that clients could check for updates on their status, say, a kiosk or portal - something with a secure login like the CRA site.
This sparked a lively exchange. Participants liked the idea of a kiosk/portal where people could just log-on to get an update on their status. No letters would be required, just an electronic identifier. Others expanded on the idea: libraries could provide access to computers for people who don't have them; such a kiosk/portal could also make people aware of outstanding fines, or other obligations; perhaps it could include online support, where people could get help from a live agent. For those who don't use digital tools or live in remote communities, courthouses or other government offices could create in-person service counters that provide this information.
One participant talked about organizations that work with people who don't have access to the internet, mail, or telephone. He wondered if people with criminal records could provide consent to someone – say, a trusted friend or family member – who could go online for them and get the update. While participants liked this idea, they worried about empowering someone to act as a proxy. How would government prevent abuse, say, from employers, landlords, or others who may use their access to an individual's file for their own purposes? Participants wanted safeguards to ensure that no one is coerced into providing consent. One suggestion was to have two different levels of access, one containing basic information for people acting on consent, such as that a criminal record exists; and the other containing more detailed information, but which is available only to the individual. In the end, this discussion of kiosks/portals led participants to revise their earlier view of government's responsibility to inform – and in a way that everyone seemed to accept.
Rather than assign government the responsibility to inform individuals of a record suspension, government should be charged with making that information reasonably accessible to those individuals. Those with a criminal record who wish to be informed of their status would be expected to go online or to the appropriate service centre and enquire.
ASCR requires complex new information-sharing agreements between Federal, Provincial, and Territorial (F-P/T) governments. Participants discussed several areas where attention and effort are needed to ensure the integrity of this new record-sharing system:
Conflicting Disclosure Rules: Federal, provincial, and municipal governments often have different rules for disclosure of information. As a result, they sometimes have different ways of identifying whether someone has a record. In consequence, even though someone's record has been suspended their information may still get disclosed. This undermines the integrity of the system.
Record Creep: Today, people and organizations ask about records in all kinds of circumstances, such as dating sites. Government should do more to help record holders understand their obligations – what they must disclose when asked.
The Right to be Forgotten: Information about past convictions is often available on social media or through a Google search, even after they have been suspended. Participants thought that steps could be taken to ensure that sequestered records don't come up again. They urged government to consider the "right to be forgotten," which some European countries recognize.
According to our participants, many people with criminal records – especially those from marginalized communities – are barely familiar with the existing record suspension system. A new ASCR system will raise important new questions among persons with criminal records, such as:
- Is my conviction/criminal record eligible for a record suspension through ASCR?
- If so, when will I be eligible and will I be notified when I am?
- How does sequestering affect any past offences?
- Will my record remain in the system?
- What happens if I am rejected?
- What will other people see when they look at my file?
- How does record sequestering affect my standing for employment?
- How should I answer a question about whether I've been incarcerated?
Our participants called on government to take steps to ensure that it informs clients on how ASCR works and how it can support their reintegration. When we asked for advice on how this should be done, they came up with a list of ideas to meet the challenge.
F-P/T governments should cooperate to set up a system of kiosks, phone lines, information desks, and an online portal where clients could get information about ASCR, check on the status of their own records, and speak with subject matter experts (duty council, lawyers, and so on) who could explain the new system and answer clients' questions.
Governments should collaborate to establish a network of people and organizations who are in regular contact with the clients and who can provide them with reliable, timely, and accessible information about ASCR and these services.
While social media is an excellent way to reach younger generations, it is not good for everyone. In addition, places frequented by clients should be enlisted to help spread the word about ASCR. For example, government could ask Employment Centers to distribute a brochure explaining the system. Buses and billboards could post messages directing people to organizations and/or a kiosk where subject matter experts (duty council, lawyers) could provide further information. Organizations like the John Howard Society and the Salvation Army work with people with records and often have a relationship of trust. They could be recruited to do in-reach at prisons to provide information on ASCR. They also have communications vehicles and robust networks through which information could be disseminated.
Government could reach out to the shelter system, share information with them and ask them to help get the message out, as people who are exiting correctional facilities often enter this system. Government should collaborate with housing organizations, employment agencies, and other community-based organizations who engage with people with records.
In addition, participants advised that information provided by these intermediaries should be in plain language and key messages should be repeated often. Most people won't absorb them unless they've heard them several times. Where numbers warrant, government should make these services available in other languages.
Participants also saw a key role for the criminal justice community in informing clients about ASCR. For example, officials in the court system, such as judges, lawyers, and duty counsel, should use their positions to instruct clients on ASCR at the time of sentencing, or as appropriate. While points of contact within provincial penal facilities should also be tapped to provide information and briefings, including discharge officers, planners, and reintegration officers.
Additionally, an information flyer could be posted on accessible sites within correctional institutions, including admitting and discharge. Parole and probation officers currently provide institutionalized people with a release plan. They could use this opportunity to inform clients of their sequestering date, eligibility, and other important information. Corrections officers who aid people trying to access a pardon could also be enlisted. Lastly, contact points in federal institutions include social workers, program coordinators, discharge planners, integration officers. They too should be engaged.
Promoting Public Acceptance
Some participants worried about public push-back on ASCR, especially from victims' rights groups, who may think that it makes record suspensions too easy to get, and thereby puts public safety at risk. Most of our participants disagreed with this and proposed that government respond by developing and launching an awareness-raising campaign to change how the public view criminal records.
These participants thought that victims' rights activists tend to cast offenders as a threat to society and criminal records as a tool of public safety – both of which they saw as misinformed. As one person remarked, "this kind of thinking is driven by fear, not evidence."
These participants also called on the federal government to challenge and change public thinking by launching an awareness-raising campaign, much as it has done with mental illness. Mental illness also carried a stigma, but recent efforts to inform the public have created a more accepting environment for these people. Government could do the same for criminal records and our participants saw the launch of ASCR as an ideal opportunity.
The goal would be to change the public narrative around records and record suspensions by showing that public concerns over safety are not only unjustified, but counterproductive. According to one participant, a recent Canadian study found that even a small amount of information about recidivism increased people's support for the record suspension process.
The participants thought their key message was simple but effective: Most crimes are non-violent and non-threatening (about one in eight Canadians have a criminal record). Nevertheless, having a criminal record stigmatizes offenders, making it much more difficult for them to find a job, secure a living space or, more generally, reintegrate into society. This in turn contributes to recidivism.
One participant proposed that the public campaign include at least three "message streams" for conveying or packaging information around the key message: 1) Providing Evidence, 2) Humanizing through Storytelling, and 3) Appealing to Canadian Values. These message streams resonated well with others in our sessions, who elaborated on them as follows:
- Provide Evidence: This stream aims at providing the public with facts about criminal records that correct misunderstandings and dispel myths. For example, records are commonly used as a tool for risk assessment. Thus, an employer or property owner may decide against hiring/renting to someone with a criminal record because they see this as a sign that the person is untrustworthy. According to one participant, research shows that criminal records are a poor guide to predicting future behaviour. Requiring record checks simply creates barriers for people who are trying to reintegrate. Government would use this stream of the public campaign to help employers, property owners, and others understand the real social/economic benefits and costs of criminal records. It might recruit experts in risk assessment to help, such as actuaries from insurance companies. However, our participants recognized that an awareness campaign based solely on facts and evidence is not enough to change the culture. The campaign also needs to connect with people's emotions, such as their fear, and this calls for a different approach to messaging, one that speaks to their emotional intelligence.
- Humanize through Storytelling: This second stream aims to meet this challenge by humanizing people with criminal records. Specifically, it promotes sharing stories that show them as normal people who are struggling to recover from a mistake, reintegrate into society, and pursue productive, law-abiding lives, much like other Canadians. It would also show how, unfortunately, the current record suspension program so often makes reintegration seem impossible. Telling stories like these to Canadians would help create a counter-narrative to victims' stories, which are often frightening and tend to dehumanize those who commit crimes. Work in restorative justice, such as sentencing circles, could be leveraged here. It humanizes offenders and victims by encouraging them to tell their stories to one another. This can build trust, confidence, and healing. Restorative justice also includes helpful techniques to reduce tension, such as replacing the term "victim" with "affected parties" and "responsible parties." Recruits from this area could help the government develop and launch a similar approach for criminal records.
"I work with lots of Indigenous people, young people with children, and when they try to get a criminal record suspension, and they're told it'll take 5-10 years, mentally, they check out. They give up."
"I have not received a pardon because I have outstanding fines and restitution. They told me that if I haven't made any payments or haven't tried, this shows that I'm not a law-abiding citizen and not making the effort to reintegrate. As a result, I've been waiting 10 years for a record suspension."
- Appeal to Basic Values: The third message stream focuses on promoting values that are fundamental to our shared sense of justice, such as fairness, equity, forgiveness, and reintegration. This stream would help Canadians recognize the systemic biases in the system, such as how the "victim narrative" stigmatizes people with criminal records, often unfairly and inequitably, especially those from marginalized groups. It would show that these people often have their own histories of trauma and victimization and how stigma and the current record suspension process condemn them to a life on the margins of society, long after their sentence has been served. The key message in this stream would call on fair-minded Canadians to end this kind of discrimination against offenders and to give them a real opportunity to reintegrate.
"Many of those who have dealt with the record suspension process, we were told, said it left them feeling: 'hopeless,' 'desperate,' 'depressed,' 'slapped in the face,' 'unvalued,' 'facing a life sentence,' and 'being held hostage.'"
Our participants recognized that launching an effective campaign to increase public acceptance of offenders is an ambitious task. With this in mind, we conclude with some "guidelines" culled from the discussions, which participants thought should informs government's thinking on the development and execution of an awareness-raising campaign.
Target the Public at Large: Government should investigate ways to launch and lead a campaign to educate people in their homes, workplaces, schools, universities, and elsewhere on the impact of stigma related to criminal records.
Make this a Coordinated Effort: Government and community organizations could work together to target key groups to inform them on how ASCR will make the record suspension system more efficient and systematic; and how it can enhance reintegration and public safety.
Speak the Truth: As part of this campaign, government should take steps immediately to counter false narratives about offenders by providing clear, accessible, evidence-based information on the stigmatization of people with criminal records, the barriers this creates for people trying to reintegrate, and the effects on recidivism.
Present ASCR as a Social Contract: Government could present ASCR to clients and the public at large as a kind of social contract, which recognizes that when someone completes their sentence, society will welcome them back, and give them a meaningful chance to reintegrate.
Create Incentives: As part of this social contract, government should take direct action to dispel the myths that hiring someone with a criminal record creates risk. It should also look for ways to incentivize and/or reward employers, landlords, and others who reach out to people with criminal records and provide opportunities that help them reintegrate.
Eliminate or Reduce the Wait Period: The former Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Criminal Records Act, proposed to reduce wait times to 3 and 5 years, rather than the current 5 and 10. These changes should be revived.
Establish a Right to be Forgotten: The right to be forgotten exists in some European countries, but not in Canada. Without it, the sequestering of records will have limited effectiveness. The government should examine ways to require data companies such as Google to allow people to request the removal of personal information about themselves from internet searches and other directories.
Just Do It: Government should launch the ASCR system as soon as possible, aligning it with existing laws, rather than working to change these laws first. Once the system is in place, government can focus on further changes to improve it.
Summary of Key Findings
While almost all our participants strongly supported development of an automated system, as the previous sections show, they were concerned about various features of its design and implementation; and, through the course of their discussions, proposed some principles, conditions, and options to guide and inform the government's work on this. We conclude with a summary of the key findings from our report.
The current record suspension process is designed to fail. A criminal record is not just a record of wrongdoing; it is an unlimited extension of the person's sentence that makes it much more difficult for them to find a job, secure a living space or, more generally, reintegrate into society. This in turn contributes to recidivism.
Stigma is a barrier to reintegration. Simply mentioning that someone has a criminal record can make others see them as untrustworthy or as a threat to their safety and security. The administration of justice is replete with biases, especially against marginalized groups, and ASCR is at risk of incorporating them.
Public expectations should be kept in check. An automated system will not eliminate systemic bias but if properly designed it could be an important tool – part of a larger set of tools to reduce bias and introduce greater fairness.
Removing the social stigma associated with a criminal record can have a huge ripple effect in a person's life, affecting employment, family relationships, housing, social participation, and more.
ASCR should avoid complexity and aim for simplicity. Decisions regarding record suspensions should involve a few basic eligibility criteria that are easily applied by a machine. ASCR should be one part of a dual system in which full automation is restricted to the granting of record suspensions for less serious crimes.
Rather than assign government the responsibility to inform individuals of a record suspension, government should be charged with making that information reasonably accessible to those individuals. F-P/T governments should set up a system of kiosks, phone lines, information desks, and an online portal where clients can get information about ASCR, check on the status of their own records, and speak with subject matter experts who can explain the new system and answer clients' questions.Governments should collaborate to establish a network of people and organizations who are in regular contact with individuals with criminal records and who can provide them with reliable, timely, and accessible information about ASCR and these services.
ASCR processes should begin as soon as the person's sentence has been completed and the waiting period has elapsed. Further, if a suspension is denied, the individual should receive an explanation and have the right of appeal. While, unpaid fines should not be a reason to deny a suspension.
The former Bill C-31 proposed to reduce wait times to 3 and 5 years, rather than the current 5 and 10. These changes should be revived. ASCR is supposed to be a tool to reduce recidivism. Thought should be given to including some indictable offences because there is such a broad range of these crimes.
ASCR provides an opportunity for change. Governments and community organizations across Canada should work together to champion ASCR as a tool to reduce recidivism, make communities safer, and help police do their jobs better.
The federal government should launch an awareness-raising campaign to change the public narrative around criminal records and record suspensions by showing that public concerns over safety are not only unjustified, but counterproductive. This campaign should include at least three "message streams" for conveying information around the key messages: 1) Providing Evidence, 2) Humanizing through Storytelling, and 3) Appealing to Canadian Values.
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