Convictions And Unemployment

I bet you know someone who has a criminal record. I’m not saying they’ve told you about it mind; I’m just betting you know someone who happens to have a criminal record. Given all the people you know as family, friends acquaintances and all the people you interact with in a given day, I’m betting it’s inevitable that at least one if not a few have been convicted of some offence.

What you may not know is how difficult it is these days to get a job when you have a conviction; even a conviction that happened 20 or 30 years ago, perhaps when the person made a serious error in judgement and did something stupid. Maybe it was a group of young adults joyriding in a stolen car, maybe drinking excessively and getting a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) conviction. I’m not excusing or defending the behaviour, but that behaviour might have been a one-time occurrence and it was ages ago. Since that time, the person hasn’t re-offended; not even a speeding or parking ticket.

So fast-forward to the present and you’ve got this person who has gone on to get an education, but then can’t find a job in the field they were trained for because at the conclusion of every job interview, the interviewer says some version of, “Congratulations. We’d like to extend an offer of employment to you – pending a clean criminal reference check of course.” It’s at this moment that the sinking feeling in the pit of the applicants stomach hits, and despite anything they say to admit and explain their behaviour way back in time, the next thing they hear almost all the time is, “Gee, I’m really sorry but that’s a condition of employment. If you can clear your record with a pardon, get back to us because otherwise you’re exactly what we are looking for.”

Two things you should know at this point: 1) this single person will repeat this experience all the time and 2) this isn’t a unique situation because there are thousands of people in this predicament. Essentially, these people are unemployable. Do they want to work in meaningful jobs? Yes. Are they willing to start with entry-level jobs where they can prove their worth, earn their way up the ladder and justify your faith in them by working responsibly? Yes. Does that seem to matter? No.

Here’s some irony for you to think about. In listening to employers talk on the radio, I hear them say from time to time, “We can’t find qualified workers locally, so we have to look off-shore and Canadians don’t want to do the work so we have to bring in immigrants.” Their words by the way, not mine. Seems to me that there are some very well qualified unemployed people who are out there, but by qualified, I mean they meet the job requirements in every way except one; a clean criminal record.

If these people with convictions were hired, what would immediately happen is that the number of unemployed would be reduced. That would mean taxpayers would have less of their money given out to people trapped on social assistance who can’t get a job. Governments would win because these same people would transition from social assistance recipients to taxpaying employed people. With more people working, the unemployment numbers would drop, the economy would pick up too as more people would have money to spend on discretionary items.

Now I don’t mean we should sponge away every person’s record and that every person with a conviction should have that information denied to potential employers. It makes sense to me that we don’t want someone convicted of sexual abuse working in a childcare centre, nor a thief exposed to temptation by working at a cash register. There are exceptions.

However, take a 25 year-old male who had a few too many and succumbed to peer pressure and went along for a joyride in a beat up car with his friends at 18 years of age. Now say for the 7 years since, he learned his lesson, stopped drinking, made a new and better circle of friends, completed University and has a degree. By now he’s also paid for his crime with community service or a short stay in detention. That sentence is over as is the probation. The criminal conviction that he carries with him every day seems unusual punishment that just goes on and on without end. Aside from your ethical beliefs, is he employable as a Printer, Researcher, Psychologist?

Would you be surprised to learn that many employers wouldn’t even hire such a person to wash dishes, sell clothes or wait on tables? None of these six jobs involve cars or alcohol; so is it saying that the conviction reveals a character flaw?

Some employers say it’s an insurance thing; and that if the person should ever re-offend, customers or clients could sue the company and win bigger awards because they knowingly hired a ‘high-risk’ applicant. High-risk? We’ve got people out there in their 50’s with a conviction they got at 19! Hardly high-risk.

It’s about time we used some common sense and pardoned people once the punishment assigned by our courts is served in full. What we have now is cruel and unusual punishment, sentencing people to years of unemployment, making their ability to provide for themselves near impossible. And it’s cheap; pass some legislation, and keep that past conviction in some cases from coming up in a criminal record check.


4 thoughts on “Convictions And Unemployment

  1. In NZ we have a “Clean Slate Record” which can be applied for by people with criminal convictions. The criteria are fairly strict, but at least it is a starting point for some people.
    Having these criminal conviction records keeping people out of employment decades later is a hurdle that must be overcome. Otherwise, self employment is the only option, and that doesn’t suit many people.
    If you are interested…here is a link:

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I hope they get something here in Canada too. If we want to have people to lead law abiding lives, we have to give them the opportunity to do so. It’s hard enough to find work even without a criminal record. We will eventually pay as a society if we keep making certain groups part of a permanently unemployable under class.


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