Job applicants with criminal records need human rights protections

Students and graduates seeking employment opportunities can face discrimination and barriers due to police record checks

Job applicants with criminal records need human rights protections

For most students, employment opportunities, volunteering, and experiential learning are a necessary stage in one’s academic and professional career. For some students — particularly in nursing, or education, or even medicine — your credentials may not be enough to get a placement: various types of criminal record checks may be required. These ‘checks’ may also be a standard part of screening for an eventual job.

But what you may not know is that record checks can reveal a lot of information: information that is very old, irrelevant to the position being applied for, or even information that a person may not even be aware is there. Even though the person may be legally innocent — in that they have not been convicted of a crime — such information on a record can create barriers to placements and employment and therefore have a negative impact on someone’s future as young professionals.

Employers are using record checks more and more as a risk screening tool and as a result, these ‘checks’ may create a stigma rather than depicting the reality of the situation and therefore must be used with caution as a risk management tool. According to the John Howard Society, having a record can reduce someone’s chances of getting a job by up to 50 per cent, and that number is likely worse for racialized populations. Some employers have policies on what to do when they see a positive result on a criminal check; others might just put the application in the garbage.

Many of those who have never been convicted of a crime are unaware that the current operating system of police record checks in Ontario can still pose barriers to employment through revealing sensitive information to employers. This can occur through disclosing criminal charges that were withdrawn or stayed, charges in which the individual was acquitted, and non-criminal police contact when there was no conviction or finding of guilt. There are currently no province-wide standards on what type of information can or cannot be disclosed on various levels of record checks.

Over 100,000 cases on average are processed through Ontario courts every year. Of those, more than 40 per cent are withdrawn, stayed, or acquitted. According to the article “Race, Crime, and Criminal Justice in Canada”, by Akwasi Owusu-Bempah and Scot Wortley, Indigenous people are overrepresented at nearly every stage of the criminal justice system. Moreover, Black people are overrepresented in cannabis possession arrests in Ontario. This police contact can be revealed in future background checks. However, allegations are not convictions. There is no legal basis for this information to appear in police background checks. It is important to notice that there is a racial dimension to the issue of non-conviction records and who they affect.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association created a report in 2012 with interviews of many who have lost educational or employment opportunities as a result of the disclosure of non-conviction records. Many of these people didn’t even know they had something on their record.

However, Ontario passed the Police Records Check Reform Act, 2015 on December 1 that year. Also known as Bill 113, the act standardizes disclosure practices across police services and promotes fairness and respect for the privacy of individuals when they request for a police record check. It will be implemented in law as of November 1, 2018.

There is currently very little protection in the Ontario Human Rights Code for people with criminal records, and no protection for people with non-conviction records, which means that employers are legally allowed to discriminate. It can also be the sole reason as to why you are denied a volunteer or employment opportunity. Even when the law comes into force later this year, employers should still know how to interpret a criminal or non-criminal record and should be encouraged to take a nuanced approach in assessing the relevance of a particular record to the specific position being applied for.

We as students must mobilize together and raise greater awareness about the barriers that the current system imposes on our professional future with regard to human rights protection. Raising awareness through engaging in activities such as signing petitions and participating in public demonstrations can be impactful. The Ontario Human Rights Commission must redefine how employer practices must be adhered to in the context of police record checks.

Sonia Gill and Proshat Babaeian both completed the 2017–2018 masters program in Criminology at the Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies. They work with the John Howard Society of Ontario.

Student groups condemn Islamophobia

Rise in Islamophobic acts prompt statements of solidarity

Student groups condemn Islamophobia

In the aftermath of the recent Paris terrorism attacks, Toronto has seen an influx of Islamophobic activity. Osama Omar, a University of Toronto student, wrote a Facebook post on November 17, claiming that a stranger insulted him and spat on him at the intersection of College and Spadina. Omar believes the assault was an act of Islamophobia.

According to a CBC News interview with Omar, he stated that the attack occurred while he was waiting for a streetcar at the intersection.

“[While] waiting for the streetcar home, a man approached me and straight up SPAT on me. He proceeded to verbally abuse me with swear words and attempted to swing at me, twice. I was quite caught off guard with such an unexpected incident, I didn’t know what to do. There was no one around except for a couple of people at the other end of the platform. I decided to walk away. The whole time, the man swore under his breath and stared me down,” Omar wrote on Facebook.

Abdullah Shihipar, president of the Arts & Science Students’ Union (ASSU), told The Varsity that Islamophobia has always been prevalent on campus, and that while it may ‘spike’ after such events, it doesn’t “necessarily go down.”

Shihipar referenced the public Facebook page, UofT Confessions, as a site where Islamophobia manifests. “At one point, every week, there was a post on Muslims, Muslim women, ‘why do Muslim women wear hijabs’ and stuff like that… those are U of T students and their opinions,” Shihipar said.

When Shihipar heard about what happened to Omar, his reaction was mixed.

“Surprise in a sense that you’re always surprised when an incident like that happens on campus, a university campus… but at the same time, not surprising because we’ve been hearing about this string of Islamophobic attacks, in the city,” he explained. “I think we have to get over the surprise aspect, because we have to realize that this type of racism, Islamophobia does manifest itself in a city that we think is inclusive, and in a campus that we think is inclusive,” Shihipar said.

Other groups have echoed Shihipar’s sentiments, many choosing to release public statements condemning the incident. “[It seems like everyday, there is yet another story of a racist hate crime. This time it hits home even further, with an attack on our campus, on a fellow student,” read a portion of the ASSU’s statement.

“For a student to be made a target of a hate crime like this is unacceptable,” said the U of T Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) in an online statement. “Islamophobia and racism are real and when it hits this close to home on campus, it is cause for concern.” Since then, the MSA has promoted a series of events and resources, such as a workshop focusing on self-defence for Muslim women.

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) published a statement, in which they expressed disgust at the attack and other Islamophobic incidents, and offered support for Muslim students. “To all Muslim-identifying students on campus: you have nothing to be apologetic for. Instead, you have every right to prioritize your mental, emotional and physical health above everything else,” read part of the UTSU’s statement.

U of T president Meric Gertler also released a statement, stating that discrimination is “intolerable” and against the principles of the university. “Such actions are reprehensible and antithetical to the fundamental values of our academic community. Instead, our institution reaffirms its commitment to be a safe and welcoming place for the widest breadth of communities –— and their perspectives, ideas, and debates.”