When you are young and foolish you make mistakes in judgment that are just part of growing up. Sometimes you “get in with the wrong crowd” with peer pressure to do something you know is wrong. If you get away with whatever stupid thing you did, well, that’s just exciting, right? If you get caught; however, that’s a whole different story. Especially these days with so much video being shot of those dumb moments, like the riots in Vancouver. In Kelowna there was the case of the kids who stole an SUV and trashed it, recording every moment of their crime like idiots.

Things have changed drastically with the whole justice system and how having a criminal record can affect your entire life. Previously you could apply for a pardon and your record would be sealed once the pardon was granted. The system broke down to a large extent because of all the convictions for marijuana possession. Often these convictions came back to haunt you because without a pardon you can not pass a CRC (Criminal Record Check) for a job. You can’t enter the US or even fly through a US airport. There was a case where a family on their way to Disneyland were prevented from flying because the father had a possession conviction from the sixties.

Also a CRC used to be required for sensitive positions, like daycare workers, police officers and any job involving security. Thanks to all kinds of embarrassing disclosures where a CRC wasn’t required, like the airport luggage handler caught stealing from people’s luggage who turned out to have a lengthy criminal record of theft, today almost every job requires a CRC. Although you are not required to divulge the details of your record, just having one will prevent you from getting a job.

All this put a heavy load on the pardon system with the backlog of pardon applications growing to some 35,000 pending applications. Part of the process of applying for a pardon is to get a copy of your criminal record from the RCMP who do not have the resources to be able to handle these requests on a timely basis. Every document required for a pardon application is time sensitive so it’s not unusual to have all your documents but one and have them all rendered useless by just one delay and the entire process has to be started all over again.

The Federal Government made a number of changes to the Act which have made it much worse. There are no more “pardons” now. Instead they are called Record Suspensions. First, the application fee increased from $140 to $650, making it all the more difficult for those looking for jobs to apply. The waiting periods were also changed dramatically. For some offenses it is five years and for some it is now ten years. The enormous challenge with this is that many people convicted of an offense did not know, or ignored, any fines levied as part of their conviction. The government had no system to follow-up to get fines paid, so this often went on for years, even decades, before you discovered there were outstanding fines. The shock comes when you learn that after paying those fines you have to wait TEN years before you can even apply for a Record Suspension!

Even if you somehow manage to stumble through life not getting those jobs you dreamed of and just living with the stress of having this hanging over your head, it will even affect you in your retirement. Many countries are also now requiring a CRC before they will allow you into their country to retire. Even the US Homeland Security will ban you from entering their country if you have a criminal record. The saddest part is that even after you have jumped through all the hoops to get a pardon or a Record Suspension in Canada, Homeland Security doesn’t care. It will take at least eighteen months to apply and there’s no guarantee they will accept your pardon and let you in.

The Bottom Line? If your teens think it’s easy money to sell drugs, or take that car for a joy ride, they may end up paying for it for the rest of their lives in ways they could never imagine. Once you are caught in the web of the justice system in Canada you may never escape.