A Criminal Record and the Job Market

By Colin McGregor    

One Quebec adult in seven has a criminal record. That’s 900,000 people 18 years of age or older. This statistic is verified by the Association des services de réhabilitation sociale du Québec (ASRSQ).

Given the current manpower shortage you’d think it would be easy for these folks to find work, whether they leave prison looking for a job or are already in the community, if their crime wasn’t bad enough to merit jail time.

However, the reality is very different. A report entitled Not in My Workplace published recently by the John Howard Society, a non-profit organization looking for humane responses to crime and its causes, indicates that people with a criminal record may have trouble getting into the job market.

Numerous companies in Canada simply will not hire people with a criminal record, even if they have the skills and the experience required for a position.

In total, 400 hiring managers from across Canada participated in the study. Three-quarters declared that they had never hired someone with a criminal record. This, despite the fact that Statistics Canada reports that there are over 700,000 vacant positions in this country.

The John Howard Society report reveals that even if they are generally favorable to reintegration, employers have a negative perception of people with a record. Moreover, the verification of a criminal record continues to be used as an essential element for evaluating candidates during the hiring process.

Half of all respondents indicated they would not hire a candidate if the verification process shows a criminal record.   

The report states: “Even in situations where a hiring panel doesn’t explicitly ask whether a person has a record or require a background check, jobseekers with criminal records will often agonize over whether to proactively disclose their record or refrain, with both options having the potential for negative outcomes”

The New York Times reports that the estimate in the United States is that 60% of Americans leaving prison are unemployed a year later.

There are always jobs in labor-intense fields, such as construction. But if you aren’t young enough or fit enough to do them, your criminal record will not help when you’Re looking for a job.

The Quebec Situation

David Henry, Director-General of the ASRSQ, confirmes that the same prejudices exist in Quebec. He cites a 2022 study by the  Comité consultatif clientèle judiciarisée adulte (CCCJ) that concludes that only 33% of all companies will hire someone with a record. This percentage comes from a survey of 500 Quebec companies and organizations.  

Henry says: “That means that two-thirds of employers indicate they aren’t ready to hire someone with a criminal record, no matter what the offense. And the more serious the crime, the less likely they are to hire, despite the labor shortage!”

He explains that the vast majority of criminal records are for minor crimes. And that legally an employer does have the right to ask someone applying for a job whether or not they have a record.

Nonetheless, the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms is very clear on the subject. According to article 18.2, explains Henry, “you can’t fire someone or refuse to hire them because of a criminal record unless there’s a clear link between the offense and the job.”

For example, a daycare centre can refuse to hire someone with a conviction for pedophilia. But if someone is seeking a factory job and has a record for possessing marijuana, “the employer can’t discriminate.”

However, it is very difficult to prove discrimination. According to Henry: “It’s very rare that an employer is going to leave a message on an answering machine telling a candidate that I won’t hire you because of your criminal record.”

Henry says that American studies on the issue conclude that “the fact you have a criminal record is going to reduce your employment prospects by one-half. That doesn’t mean that you won’t get any job. It means you have to send out twice as many CVs and do twice as many interviews to find a job.”

There is a lot of work to do to undo these prejudices, Henry concludes.

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