Criminal Records & Record Suspensions

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This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Jordan Allingham, Ferguson Allingham and Paul Briggs, Paul Briggs Law in March 2022.

Information about a person found guilty of a crime is kept in their criminal record. Learn about criminal records, including how to apply for a record suspension (formerly a pardon).

What you should know

Your criminal record contains information about crimes

Information about a person found guilty of a crime is kept in a computerized file by the RCMP. The file is called a criminal record.

Your criminal record shows any criminal convictions against you. It also contains information about your identity, such as fingerprints or DNA.

You’ll have a criminal record only if, at age 18 or older, you’ve been accused of a crime and your fingerprints were taken. A crime is breaking a law of Canada such as the Criminal Code or the law on illegal drugs.

Breaking a provincial law doesn’t lead to a criminal record. For example, you won’t have a criminal record because you were found guilty of an offence under BC’s highway safety law or a local bylaw.

Your criminal record is not public, but police, prosecutors, customs officers, and other officials can still see it.

Avoiding a criminal record

If you’ve been charged with a crime, you can avoid a criminal record by having your case dealt with through alternative measures (also called diversion). You might be eligible for diversion if the charge against you is minor, you have no criminal history, you accept responsibility for the crime, and you feel sorry about what you’ve done.

If you are accepted into diversion, you follow a program set out for you that may include community service work or counselling. If you complete the diversion program, the criminal charge is stayed (meaning the Crown won’t go ahead with the charge against you). This means you won’t get a criminal record. For more, see our information on pleading guilty to a criminal charge.

A record of a discharge is temporarily on your record

A judge may find you guilty of a crime but discharge you instead of convicting you. An absolute discharge means your criminal record won’t show a conviction. A conditional discharge means your record won’t show a conviction if you meet conditions the judge sets.

In either case, a record of the discharge is kept on your criminal record for a period of time.

If you get an absolute discharge, the record of your discharge will be kept on file for one year.

If you get a conditional discharge, the record of your discharge will be kept on file for three years after the probation period is completed.

After the one- or three-year period, the RCMP must delete any record of your discharge from their records. Under the law in Canada, no record of your discharge can be disclosed to anyone except in specific circumstances, such as if your fingerprints were found at the scene of a crime.

For discharges before 1992, you must make a written request to remove the discharge. Visit the RCMP website for a form to request a discharge be purged from RCMP records.

A record suspension limits access to your criminal record

If you’re found guilty of a crime, your criminal record doesn’t disappear, even after many years.

But after some time, you can usually ask for a suspension of your record (previously called a pardon) to have your criminal record set apart from other criminal records by the RCMP. The information in your record is not accessible except in rare situations.

Record suspensions are intended to help people access job and educational opportunities and to reintegrate into society.

To get a record suspension, you must ask the Parole Board of Canada. We explain how shortly.

Effect of a criminal record suspension

Suspension of your criminal record doesn’t erase the fact you were found guilty of a crime. If anyone asks whether you’ve been found guilty or convicted of a crime or a similar question, you must answer yes. But you can say your criminal record was suspended to show good behaviour and respect for the law.

If you get a record suspension, your criminal record will be kept separate from other criminal records by the RCMP. No one regulated by federal law can give out information about your criminal record or record suspension. But others who are not regulated by federal law — like local police or private citizens — can still give out this information. A record suspension does not cancel your conviction.

Importantly, a criminal record suspension doesn’t guarantee you can travel to other countries. For example, a criminal record suspension in Canada is not recognized in the United States and doesn’t erase information in American databases. So entry to the US is not guaranteed.

A record suspension can reduce the impact of having a criminal record when it comes to jobs. It can also help you immigrate to Canada.

Who can apply for a record suspension (and when)

You must wait five or 10 years after completing your sentence (punishment) before asking for a suspension of your criminal record. The waiting period depends on how serious the crime was.

The waiting period starts running only once you finish serving your sentence. That means you must have:

  • paid all fines, costs, and orders for restitution or compensation,
  • served any jail time, and
  • satisfied any probation order.

People found guilty of a crime involving a child (for example, sexual touching of a child or child pornography) usually can’t get their criminal records suspended. Nor can people who have been convicted more than three times with sentences of two years or more.

Applying for a record suspension

To get a record suspension, you must ask the Parole Board of Canada. Visit their website for the application form and a step-by-step guide. You can also call the Parole Board for information at 1-800-874-2652.

There is an application fee of $50. You must also pay to have your fingerprints taken, get a copy of your criminal record, and get other documents from the court and local police.

The process involves many documents and several stages. It can take six months to two years before getting an answer from the Parole Board.

In considering your application

To suspend your criminal record, the Parole Board must be satisfied you were of good conduct. They will be looking for behaviour that demonstrates a law-abiding lifestyle.

If the Board is going to deny your application, it must first tell you that you can make a submission about your conduct and ask for an oral hearing. The Board must then consider your submission before it decides.

If your application is denied

You cannot appeal a Parole Board decision to deny your application for a record suspension. However, you can reapply after one year.

Common questions

Do I need a lawyer or company to apply for a record suspension?

No. You can apply directly to the Parole Board for a record suspension. The Parole Board won’t give you preferred treatment if you use a lawyer or specialized company. If you hire a lawyer or specialized company, you’ll have to pay for their services.

Can the Parole Board cancel a record suspension?

Yes. The Parole Board can cancel a criminal record suspension in these situations:

  • The person was convicted of a new crime.
  • The person is “no longer of good conduct.”
  • The person lied or hid information when applying for the record suspension.
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