Canadian Civil Liberties Association

Gord Listen to his story Play Recording

Gord was a nursing student when he was asked to get a vulnerable sector check in order to complete college placements. His non-conviction record, which was nearly two decades old when it was disclosed on his police check, completely altered the course of his life.

“You sort of wonder how one group could have so much power to influence your life. Even if you haven’t been charged with anything, even if you are innocent, they can still affect you decades later, if they haven’t cleared your records. And that’s a problem…”

Robin Listen to her story Play Recording

Robin was 18 and pregnant when her male roommates started dealing drugs out of the apartment. She tried to find a new place to live, but before she could move the police came and charged everyone who lived there with trafficking. The charges against her were withdrawn, but her record has followed her, preventing her from pursuing her career and furthering her education.

“I wish that somebody would have told me when I was charged how much this would affect me. … So many doors have been shut and I wish I didn’t waste so much time trying to be someone who could work in the community and be with people when the doors just keep getting shut on me. Just be aware of how this can hold you back.”

Lana Listen to her story Play Recording

Lana’s abusive ex-partner phoned the police and accused her of assault, twice. After leaving her partner she was unemployed and needed financial assistance to try to pay school application fees. When she first went to Ontario Works, they initially told her they wouldn’t even pay for the application for nursing school because there was a chance she wouldn’t get a nursing placement while in school.

“I’m not guilty, I didn’t do anything, it’s just someone manipulating the system against me… That life-long discrimination is just infuriating, for something I didn’t do. …. It’s humiliating. Because I’ve never, ever, ever, ever, not even close to it, being in trouble - never been in trouble in my life. And now all of a sudden, it’s like, why aren’t you working? What did you do? There’s this whole presumption that I must have done something terribly wrong.”

Chris Listen to his story Play Recording

Chris had been accepted as a volunteer firefighter in his small town and was several months into training when he realized that his vulnerable sector check listed him as the subject of a drug investigation. Chris had never even been questioned by the police, much less charged with any offence. He assumes that his name was entered into police databases because he had a friend who was arrested and charged with drug offences – Chris had met the undercover officer who was investigating his friend, but Chris was never questioned by police or charged with anything.

“It’s a small town, I mean, all the people I was in class training with, it was a class of 25 or 30, they all know I got kicked off. All the people at the station know I got kicked off. I run into these people on a daily basis. I feel now like a criminal and I haven’t done anything wrong. Or even if I had done something wrong, I’ve never been to court to prove it. It’s like guilty until proven innocent.

It kind of ruined my chances. My whole plan was getting on, and getting full time – it threw that out the window. Now I’ll never be able to be a firefighter.”

Lois Kamenitz Listen to her story Play Recording

Lois was trying to board a flight to Los Angeles to spend thanksgiving with family when she was pulled over by American border officials for secondary screening. She was told she was not able to cross over to the United States because Toronto police had attended her home in 2006 after a 911 call for medical assistance.

This interview was conducted in February 2013. Since then the matter has been resolved. Lois is not at liberty to comment further due to a confidentiality agreement.

“To me, this is the kind of thing that needs to have a public airing. … But many people are not willing to be public about it because they fear the embarrassment, they worry about job security. … I think this is something that we really need to look at, because too many people are being hurt – and too many people will continue to be hurt – if we allow this to go unchallenged.”

Gabriel Listen to his story Play Recording

Gabriel went to the police for advice after he got a text message threatening his life. The police arrested the woman who sent the text message – and the day after she was released on bail, she went to the police and made a series of serious allegations against him. Two days later Gabriel was arrested and charged. Months afterwards all the charges against him were withdrawn – but the police refused to destroy the records.

“So what will happen now, if a police just randomly stop me on the street, as a black person, what would really happen to me, with this list of charges? Because this list of charges really outline a psychopath…”

Mark de Pelham Listen to his story Play Recording

Mark De Pelham was fired from two customer service jobs because his police record check revealed pending drug charges. The charges were eventually withdrawn. Believing that he had been discriminated against – twice – he complained to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, only to realize that Ontario’s human rights code provides stronger protection for criminal convictions than it does for people who are only charged with an offence.

“I think it’s fairly obvious that this was legislated in error… that this is an absurd situation. It still angers me to this day that there has not been the political will or courage from somebody in power to speak out against this and try to amend this legislation that is harming so many people. ... I’m someone who has been precariously employed for most of the last several years, and I wind up doing job applications. I wind up seeking employment. And the number of times I run into corporations or organizations that are doing background checks when there does not seem to be a bona fide occupational requirement, leads me to believe there are thousands of people out there who may have a criminal record, who may have a past conviction record, who have experienced discrimination in employment, who are now marginalized, who cannot find employment, who have stopped looking for employment.”

James Listen to his story Play Recording

The RCMP charged James with assault; the charge was later withdrawn. The record has had a direct impact on his professional life, and he has avoided other situations in his personal life – including activities with his child’s school – where he might be forced to disclose information.

“It’s an extremely frustrating situation to be in and it feels extremely unjust. Especially because this is a case where there wasn’t even a prosecution put forward… there was nothing in the first place to even try. So if that’s the case, why are there records that still exist that force an RCMP administrator to check off a box that says that they are still around and will be for the next five years I’m told. Which means that my kids will be out of school and long gone by the time this thing goes away. It just seems very wrong...”

John and Jane Listen to their story Play Recording

Jane and John's daughter was a straight-A student nearing the end of a nursing program. She had passed multiple background checks while at school. But suddenly one of these checks brought up an incident from years earlier, where the police had taken her to hospital under the Mental Health Act.

“I think the general public - which would have been us before - when you hear you have to have a vulnerable sector check to work in these certain areas, your first thought is, 'Well, good.' I think if they understood the real details, and how it could affect almost anybody... I don't think people understand that. We didn't know this until we started looking. And the more we found out the more shocked we were.”

Audio producer: Kevin Philipupillai.