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Jobs program for offenders could lead to discrimination

|Written By Jennifer Brown

A new program intended to help those with criminal records gain employment appears contradictory to the federal government’s desire to make it tougher for offenders to put their past behind them and could leave them vulnerable to discrimination by employers.

A new program aimed at helping those with criminal records get jobs appears to contradict federal laws making it tougher for offenders to put their past behind them. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Earlier this month, CBC News had an article about the government’s push to help offenders with criminal records find jobs. The “Hiring an Offender” page encourages employers looking for skilled labour to hire from within Correctional Service of Canada’s pool of workers. It even mentions a wage subsidy program that may be available to employers depending on their industry and geographic location.

However, in March 2012, the federal government’s omnibus Safe Streets and Communities Act introduced many changes including increasing the ineligibility period to apply for a record suspension from three to five years for a minor offence, and from five to 10 years for indictable offences.

According to Pardon Services Canada, the legislation also rendered certain offenders, such as those with three or more convictions for indictable offences, permanently ineligible for a pardon, or what is now known as a record suspension, and raised the cost of getting a federal pardon to $631 from $150.

The legislative changes to the Criminal Records Act have disqualified many people from being able to obtain a pardon, and by virtue, excluded them from the workforce.

It’s a case of “five steps backwards and one questionable step forward,” says employment lawyer Danny Kastner with Turnpenny Milne LLP.

He says the changes in the Safe Streets and Communities Act “stigmatizes and isolates those with criminal records,” making it far more difficult than before to obtain a pardon. On the other hand, the Hiring an Offender program is meant as a response to the chronic problem of those with criminal histories being denied work because of their criminal records.

Kastner notes the legislative backdrop is important to consider. The Canadian Human Rights Act does not protect workers from discrimination based on their criminal records unless they have received a pardon or record suspension. This means workers can be denied employment or dismissed because of their records, with no repercussions for the employer. As a result, the more difficult it is for workers to obtain pardons, the longer they are exposed to legal discrimination based on their criminal records.

The Ontario Human Rights Code protects workers from discrimination based on their criminal record but only in cases where it is provincially regulated employment, regardless of whether they have received a pardon. It would not apply in the case of federally regulated employers in Ontario.

“You can’t discriminate in Ontario on the basis of record of offences if a person has received a pardon but it also stipulates that you can’t discriminate based on a provincial offence,” he says.

Kastner also wonders if workers in the program will be paid a fair wage.

“Will there be wage controls? If not, prospective employers are likely to take advantage of the workers’ vulnerable status as ‘offenders’ to pay below-market wage rates,” he says.

The name of the program may also impede its effectiveness as some employers may be concerned their clients will find out they are hiring offenders.

“I have to wonder how effective a jobs program will be that labels workers ‘offenders,’” he says.

Update 4 pm.: Attribution added in paragraph 4

  • RE: Jobs program for offenders could lead to discrimination

    Nicole
    What a sad state of affairs that we live in one of the "freest" countries in the world but yet the current laws have deemed those who have made an error in judgement (certain individuals with criminal records) unworthy of their own freedom. As an employment counselor in BC, I have encountered many individuals who are still "paying" for their crime(s) simply because they are ineligible for and/or unable to afford a Record Suspension. Not surprisingly, some of them return to criminal activities simply because that is their only choice, and those who try to move on, leaving their past behind; are continuously haunted by their error in judgement. Many of them will also remain living out their lives below the poverty line, not by choice, but due to current laws. There has to be a better way?! Even if that means a more comprehensive process to determining how/who to help those individuals who are trying desperately to get on with their lives and become contributing members of society.
  • RE: Jobs program for offenders could lead to discrimination

    Mark de Pelham
    You noted that the Ontario Human Rights Code protects individuals from discrimination in employment due to a criminal record.
    This is incorrect. The Code in Ontario mirrors the Canadian Human Rights Act insomuch as it protects for a 'record of offences' defined as a conviction for which a pardon has been granted and not revoked.

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