A former offender hoping to pursue a future with stable employment – a necessity in order to move forward and establish a happy, productive life – will most likely face numerous obstacles. A criminal record is the major black mark, but other barriers could very likely contribute to the challenge. Until an ex-offender has received a Canadian pardon, which removes a criminal record from searchable databases like the Canadian Police Information Centre, these barriers will persist.
Approximately one in ten adults in Canada, approximately 4.2 million, has a criminal record. An estimated 600,000 Canadians have criminal records for marijuana possession, which is a minor offence but one that could easily limit a person’s efforts to move forward just like any other criminal record.
Many companies have a blanket policy that rules out hiring any applicant with a criminal record. As well, positions that require employees to be bondable would be off limit. Plus, many ex-offenders have a history of debt that a credit check would reveal, ruling them out as many businesses use them to screen candidates.
Redemption Inc. is a CBC reality game show hosted by business commentator Kevin O’Leary. The show features ten ex-convicts in an elimination-style competition that results in the winner earning $100,000 to start a business venture. Redemption Inc. recognizes the obstacles that ex-offenders face and has outlined seven of those challenges:
- The Pardons System: The cost of getting a pardon in Canada is now $631, increased just recently from $150. This fee hike is viewed by many as prohibitive for those seeking a clean slate and already facing limited job opportunities. As well, pardon eligibility wait periods after completion of a sentence have been further extended.
- Credit and Banking Woes: Unsettled debts are often symptomatic of prolonged incarceration. Without a good credit score, employment opportunities are rare. The ability to access credit is a significant barrier to reintegrating into society and landing a job. Faced with incarceration, paying off debt is not always desirable or possible. Few employers may be willing to hire an ex-convict without a bank account to manage their money, and people leaving prison often lack the documents, like a health card or a driver’s license, needed to arrange a bank account.
- Prison Work Shortage: The shortage of available skill-development opportunities inside federal jails is hurting offenders’ chances of training to prepare for employment upon their eventual release. An inmate’s use of time while in prison is invaluable for life beyond incarceration. However, work placements and vocational opportunities inside penitentiaries are severely lacking.
- Getting Bonded: Employee bonding as a condition of employment is needed to cover losses due to fraud, theft, and embezzlement for many positions. A prior conviction serves as a barrier to being bondable since the inconvenience and added expense of getting a “high-risk” employee insured deters many employers. As well, some insurers are reluctant to comply.
- Laws and Corporate Policies: The Canadian Human Rights Act dictates that an employer cannot discriminate against someone for a criminal record for which they’ve been pardoned. The Act also lists some provinces as regions meant to protect job-seekers with criminal records from discrimination. However, more and more companies are requiring background checks as a condition of employment, and several occupations require a criminal record check by law.
- Reputation Risk: Some organizations are reluctant to hire anyone with a criminal record, fearing that their images would be damaged. A company can be deemed liable for a crime committed by an employee while on the job; thus, some businesses might not want to risk the harm that would be inherent in hiring an ex-offender.
- Stigma and Attitudes: The burden of bearing the stigma of having a criminal past is an additional “sentence,” which begins once an ex-offender has left prison. The resistance to hiring or even interviewing someone with a criminal record is a significant hurdle.
The assurance of receiving a regular salary is essential for an ex-offender’s sense of well-being and necessary for reintegration into society; it has also been seen to curb recidivism rates. The majority of offenders will not be in prison forever; they will need help to become contributing members of society. A significant step is to obtain a record suspension by getting a pardon.
If you feel you are being held back because you have a criminal record, you should definitely contact Pardon Services Canada to obtain a pardon, which will remove your record from the Canadian Police Information Centre’s database so that it is no longer accessible during criminal record checks. A Client Specialist will ensure that your application will be processed expeditiously and you will be kept informed at each stage of the process.