Changing Lenses: Diversify Your Perspectives

Ep208: Why Police Record Checks Are More Harmful Than Helpful, with Safiyah Husein

July 20, 2021 Rosie Yeung Season 2 Episode 18
Changing Lenses: Diversify Your Perspectives
Ep208: Why Police Record Checks Are More Harmful Than Helpful, with Safiyah Husein
Show Notes Transcript

Many employers are asking where to find and hire “diverse talent”. What they SHOULD be asking is how their recruitment process might discriminate against these candidates once they apply.

In this episode, Safiyah Husein, a lawyer and Senior Policy Analyst at the John Howard Society, shines a light on the hidden dangers behind a widely accepted hiring procedure: the police (or criminal) background check.

This episode is for you if:

  • You think police checks make your workplace safer
  • Your employer has done a police check on you but you don’t know what it said
  • You believe police checks only uncover findings on convicted criminals

Spoiler alert: research shows that police checks don’t do what you probably think they do.

Listen to the full episode to find out what they really do!

Contact Rosie and find JEDI resources at:

Full transcript available here.

Guest Bio and References/Links

About Safiyah Husein:

Safiyah Husein is a Senior Policy Analyst at the John Howard Society of Ontario (JHSO). She does research and policy development, supports its public education activities, and liaises with local offices and community partners on reform initiatives. Safiyah holds a BSc in Psychology from York University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Windsor Faculty of Law.

JHSO actively advocated for reforms to police record checks, to protect public safety and human rights, leading to the Police Record Check Reform Act. JHSO conducts workshops and webinars to educate stakeholders about legal rights and responsibilities under the Act, and promote evidence-based best practices around police record checks and employment. 

Safiyah worked on projects related to police record check policy, and leads public education activities for legal professionals, employers and individuals navigating the job market with justice involvement.

Find Safiyah on:

References and resources in this episode:
Police Record Hub Website
John Howard Society Ontario Website

Please note: the transcripts attempt to stay true to the essence of each conversation, while maintaining clarity and readability. As a result, certain "filler" words, and nuances of tone, emotion and emphasis will be missing.

If you're able, you're strongly encouraged to listen to the audio podcast. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human editors, and may contain errors. 

Ep18: Why Police Record Checks Are More Harmful Than Helpful, with Safiyah Husein

Rosie: Have you ever hired someone or been hired by someone? Probably at least one of those two, right? And if you have, you may be familiar with a standard procedure in the hiring process, the employee background check. I'm not talking about reference checks, where they call your former boss and ask them what they think about you. I'm talking about some mysterious process that happens after you fill out a form, give them your driver's license or ID, and your potential new employer calls the police to find out whether you're secretly a murderer or thief.

At least, that's what I thought was happening. And since no one I personally know is a murderer or a thief, I never gave the criminal background check a second thought. Until I met Safiyah Husein.

Safiyah is a Canadian lawyer and senior policy analyst at the John Howard Society of Ontario. She does lots of stuff in research and policy to protect public safety and human rights. But if I was to sum it all up, she supports the right of every person, including people with criminal records to get a dignified job, because it turns out not everyone who has a finding on their police background check is a mass murderer or dangerous offender. 

In this episode, Safiyah enlightens us on how irrelevant and even unfair many such findings are. At least until 2018, when these police checks were finally reformed. And surprise, surprise, the people who were most unfairly affected by this are people who are Black, Indigenous, racialized, low-income, and all the other ways people are marginalized in our society.

It also turns out:

Safiyah: police records are not good predictors of future behavior. So this is not an accurate way to assess risk or liability or anything like that. In fact there is no correlation between previous convictions and employment performance

Rosie: Case in point. Do any of you remember Paul Bernardo, the notorious Canadian rapist and serial killer? Did you know he was briefly a professional accountant, training to be a CPA, hired by one of the prestigious Big 4 accounting firms. This was back in 1987, so I don't know if that firm did a background check on him.

But considering that he was a good-looking, charming white man, former Boy Scout, no convictions to that point. What would they have found anyway? Before the 2018 police reform act, a background check was more likely to exclude a Black or Indigenous man who was racially profiled by police, than Paul Bernardo, a sexual predator and murderer. 

OK fine. That extreme conclusion is my own and not based on statistical data, but I'm trying to make a point here. OK? 

And hey, Corporate Canada, listen up. If you’re freaking out right now and asking, "What are you saying? We should never conduct background checks?" Stay calm and carry on listening.

I had the same question, so Safiyah gives us practical advice on when and how to equitably conduct background checks and how to evaluate the results of these checks in ways that are inclusive of hiring diverse communities. Because if you have a goal of increasing the number of Black, Indigenous and racialized people in your workforce, but you also have background checks that will exclude those same people who have been unfairly and disproportionately criminalized, then you need to hear what Safiyah has to say.

But first, a quick intro and land acknowledgment.


[intro music plays]

Rosie: Welcome to Changing Lenses. You’re invited to step into the lives of people on the front lines of discrimination, racism, and exclusion; to see the world through their eyes; and to hear their personal story of their fight for social justice.

I’m your host, Rosie Yeung, a Chinese-Canadian, immigrant, cis-straight female with invisible disabilities, and I’m passionate about justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.

Do you also want to see social change happen? Then please join me in Changing Lenses.

Each episode is hosted on colonized land that was taken from many Indigenous nations, including the Anishinaabe, the Huron-Wendat, and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. I seek Truth and Reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit and Métis people of Turtle Island, and I call upon us all to decolonize our thinking, not just our systems. Learn more on my website,

Now please, enjoy the episode.

[intro music ends]


Rosie: Hi Safiyah. Welcome and thank you for being here today. 

Safiyah: Thank you for having me.

Rosie: I'm so excited for our conversation because police record checks is just something that I've taken for granted through all my career and I know a lot of my colleagues do as well so I can't wait to hear a different opinion on some of this stuff. But before we get started, I do want to share with you and with our listeners that I want you to feel very safe and comfortable, to be honest and real and vulnerable in our conversations. Because some of the things we talk about might be that sensitive. So I commit to you and our listeners that this is a safe space.

And I invite you to keep me accountable, to being respectful and nonjudgmental, and definitely let me know if I say or pronounce anything incorrectly. 

Safiyah: Absolutely. Thank you.

Rosie: Awesome. So let's get right into it. Safiyah, could you maybe just start us off a little bit of background telling us a bit more about yourself and why and how you came to do the work you're doing now? 

Safiyah: Absolutely. Maybe I'll start from the present to work back a little bit. I'm currently working as a senior policy analyst at the John Howard Society of Ontario. And you know, for the benefit of your listeners who may not know that the John Howard Society of Ontario has worked for over 90 years to support people whose lives are affected by the justice system and help build safer, more thriving communities.

So one of the key issues that we look at is around employment and police records and the barriers that those create for folks that are trying to find stable employment. And so that's an issue that's important to the organization, but also to me. I've worked at the John Howard Society of Ontario for a little over two years now. And I'm actually a lawyer and I -

Rosie: That’s okay, we forgive you.

Safiyah: I try to sneak in as a policy analyst now. 

I did become really interested in criminal justice issues kind of before law school, but really in law school as well, when I had a chance to get more engaged with the subject. I worked at the legal aid clinic in Windsor, where I went to school and really got to see firsthand working with marginalized clients. The sort of differential impacts that marginalized people have within the justice system. And that sort of created a fire inside of me about making change and actually working on a more systemic level around criminal justice issues. So fast forward a couple of years. I feel really fortunate to be able to be at the John Howard Society of Ontario now kind of doing that work from a different lens than I would as a lawyer, practicing with clients.

Rosie: Awesome. Wow. I didn't realize too that you did legal aid, so you're definitely one of the good guys. So on that note, I've had a few different jobs and I've also hired people. And in all cases, we always did these background checks and I never really asked what those were. So from your experience,  like what kind of goes on when employers are doing a background check? What does that entail? 

Safiyah: So their police records. If you look at the actual information that is collected by police, there's all kinds of information that is in police databases. So that can be information about actual convictions. If somebody has been found guilty of a crime. That can also be non-conviction information related to interactions with the police, whether it be for a mental health crisis or just, you know, if there was a robbery and a person was a witness that interaction could be recorded in a police database too.

So there's all this information that's out there. Once an employer or, you know, whether it's a volunteer opportunity, a school placement, whatever it is, when they conduct a police record check, they're actually getting at some of that information disclosed to them for the purpose of that position. And so the issue has been in the past, what information is disclosed and to whom.

Rosie: Okay. So what have been some of the issues around information that's been disclosed? 

Safiyah: So in the past we've seen a lot of information around non conviction. So that's things like interactions with the police like I described. That information was being released to employers. And people did not realize that, that information was going to be shared and it was affecting their ability to seek employment, you know, to complete a school program or to get a placement somewhere.

And that information was not expected because you expect that when you do a record check, if you have a conviction on your record, you expect that information to be released or disclosed, but you wouldn't expect an interaction you had with a police officer to be disclosed in that manner. And that was preventing people from accessing these employment opportunities. A couple of years ago, there was an act that changed that. So the Police Record Check Reform Act standardized the process and created some clarity around what information is able to be released and in which cases, so there's three levels of police record check now, and it's clearly described in each level what information is going to be released. And there are certain circumstances when you can use the different levels of checks. So there's a lot more clarity now for employers, for the people providing the record checks and for people who are going through that process themselves.

Rosie: Okay. So I'm just thinking about Law and Order and TV cop shows that I've seen before, where people will be like, Well, if you're innocent, you have nothing to hide, right. So what do you mean by an interaction that shouldn't affect my employment, but it is.

Safiyah: For example, police carding. So when you know, you're walking down the street, police stop you to ask you some questions they ask for your ID. This also disproportionately affected racialized folks. And that kind of information was being released on police record checks and it was affecting people's ability to seek employment or their education. And that's information that didn't suggest there was anything wrong. You know, it's completely innocent. In many cases, a lot of people have that kind of interaction and that has nothing to do with criminal involvement at all.

Rosie: When I first reached out to you, I was just thinking that certain racialized people, especially Black people, especially Indigenous people, are disproportionately criminalized and incarcerated, but carding which obviously highly controversial at best.

And as you said many more black people And indigenous people and brown people would have been carded than white people or even Asian people necessarily . So it could be, as you said, nothing, most times it was nothing or it's unfairly targeted. And then somebody goes and applies for a job unrelated to whatever they were being carded for. From like research you've seen were employers actually denying employment then simply because they had these non-criminal, non-proven offenses on their records? 

Safiyah: John Howard Ontario has been part of this work for a long time now and actually held a symposium years ago and did some outreach with getting stories from folks around the experiences that they had, having non-conviction information released. It absolutely did affect them in terms of getting employment. Like I said, a lot of schooling, a lot of times people would get a record check when they're in nursing school, for example, or doing social work and they need to do placements and things like that. And that could affect them from finishing their schooling. And I think there's just a lack of awareness, especially when a police record check comes back and there's a positive result. There's something there. When there isn't you know, an awareness about what that means or how to interpret that, somebody might look at that and immediately say okay, this person's not suitable or not reliable and kind of dismiss them or exclude them. So that has definitely been an issue prior to these major reforms.

Rosie: Okay. And approximately when did the reform happen? When did the reform act take effect?

Safiyah: So in 2018 we saw the PRCRA come into force. 

Rosie: Okay. And you mentioned that there were now sort of three categories, I guess, or three tiers. How have you seen things get better since the reform act came in place? 

Safiyah: Well, I think one major thing was around this information that was being released, unbeknownst to people and catching them off guard. That was the major issue that was addressed through the Police Record Check Reform Act. The clarity piece is so important for individuals to know what's going to be released about them. 

The Police Record Check Reform Act also implemented a process and sort of protections where individuals have to consent to an employer seeing their record. So a police record check will never go directly to an employer without the individual signing a consent form. And for the most intrusive level of check, it always has to go back to the individual first. And that way you're not having a record check go directly to an employer and have no idea what they're going to see on it. You have a chance to review things first. 

So there's certain processes like that around the standardization of information that's disclosed that really created protections for individuals and clarity like I said, for the providers. For the folks who are doing these police record checks, because before it would be different based on where you were and who was doing the check. 

Rosie: From what you're saying, it sounds like before this reform act, an employer could request a police check on me and the police check would send information, some of which has no substance behind it, but it still gets sent to my potential employer and I don't even get to see it. So if my employer doesn't choose to discuss it with me, I don't have any chance to explain. I have no idea what's on the record check. I'd have to go myself to get it or something like that's just unbelievable to me. Is that what was happening before? 

Safiyah: Yeah, that was definitely a reality and in some cases, people were able to see it and then were shocked that something that they weren't expecting to be on there. But absolutely, before there was this process in place, in some cases, people didn't even know what was being shared with their employer or potential employer. I guess this is all a recruitment process.

Rosie: Right. Oh my gosh. This is actually making me think of credit reports. Like when you apply for a bank loan or mortgage or credit cards and everything seems okay until they do the credit check on you, and then you find someone maybe fraudulently put something on.  How useful are these police checks for a potential employer or a school, I guess like when you talk about the nursing programs and social work programs I know you guys have a research team. Have they done research or found some data that talks about how predictive it is on how well someone will do at work or how likely they are to commit a crime at work? 

Safiyah: Yeah. So there's a lot of social science evidence on this issue. And the overwhelming results of that is that ,no, police records are not good predictors of future behavior. So this is not an accurate way to assess risk or liability or anything like that. In fact there is no correlation between previous convictions and employment performance and, you know, limited correlation between previous convictions and future contact with the justice system. And there's so many other factors as well that are at play there. 

So this is not a great tool. It's effectively looking at a static point in time. And people use that to assess a person's entire dependability, reliability, trustworthiness, which is not effective. And what we often suggest is, it may be necessary as part of a recruitment process to ask for a police record check. But if it is, and you know, in those circumstances where it actually is necessary. It should just be one part of a more fulsome kind of recruitment process. There's so many other ways to figure out if a person is suitable for your organization or your company, and then also to manage risk and liability once somebody has been hired. There's other ways to do that and just relying on a police record check is not going to be an effective management strategy.

Rosie: Okay. Good to know, because it also costs money, right, to do each of these checks every time someone does one. Does the data give an indication of why it's not a great predictor? Like I'm wondering now how we even came about starting to do these, thinking that will be helpful. 

Safiyah:  There's a number of stories of people who have had contact with the justice system who have a criminal record. In one case I've heard of an individual who was looking for a job in his forties or fifties and had a conviction from when he was in college. And it was related, it was an assault conviction. So somebody looks at that and say, oh, you've been convicted of assault. That's a serious thing. And the actual story behind that was that he used to work as a bouncer in college at the college bar. And if he had to remove somebody and touch that person or get them out of the bar, that person could charge him with assault. And in one case, an issue with trying to get somebody out of the bar did result in a charge and he had limited resources, was you know, worried about what to do, and just took a guilty plea and ended up with a record because of that. And so that was coming back to affect him later on in life. 

And we hear stories about this all the time, where people have interactions with the justice system and these convictions on their records. There's so much context behind that. And it's important for employers to be able to get at that context because otherwise you look at it and they're dismissed, but that one interaction with the justice system has no bearing on that individual's ability to be an excellent employee and really positively contribute to a workplace.

Rosie: Incredible.  And I'm thinking that whatever he was applying for in his forties and fifties, wasn't a bouncer job. And wasn't anything where you'll be put in a similar situation where frankly, it's a risk, right. He actually had a very risky job that led to this assault charge, which sounds debatable or disputable. But yeah, as you said, all these contextual reasons why he ended up with a conviction on his record. Is there no statute of limitations on these things? Why is it that 20 years or 30 years later these things never go away from our records? It's always there?

Safiyah: Yeah, and that's another huge issue. There is the opportunity to get, or the possibility of getting a record suspension, which is basically sealing that record off so it's not disclosed. But the process is quite difficult. It's quite onerous.

So after fines been paid or time and custody or whatever it is. After that point, you have to wait a certain amount of time before you're eligible. And then it's a price point that's gone up over the past few years. Right now it's almost $700 just to apply and you don't know if you actually will be successful in that application. There's a ton of paperwork. It's often prohibitive for people and it makes it difficult for somebody to actually go through that process. Without that their record will be there forever. 

Rosie: Hmm. So basically like taking that example of the person who used to be a bouncer, if he had had the resources, the money and the time, et cetera, and legal advice, legal support, to be able to fight that charge. That wouldn't have even gone on his record. And then later on, if he had, again, time, resources, money, support to apply for a record suspension. Then that wouldn't have stayed on his record.

So the people who have access to those things can get those benefits or those privileges. The people who don't have access, which are typically the people who are at greater risk of also unfair convictions. Again, also racialized people or lower income people, they are even more at risk of getting discriminated against really. Is that going too far to say that it's a discrimination in the hiring process that, you know, something comes up on the record and then they are excluded or dismissed. I don't know, what do you think? 

Safiyah: I think it definitely is. It's important for us to recognize that there are these differential impacts. This like disparate impacts for marginalized folks. For Black and Indigenous folks who are highly overrepresented in the justice system and other racialized populations. And so all of these things are going to be affecting people in really profound ways because of all of those, those pieces. Even living in poverty is a huge one. And you're going to experience the justice system completely different when you are marginalized rather than if you're not. So these things I think are important to consider in how we're conducting these policies and how they're affecting people and how it creates better communities because jobs and stable employment are so important for preventing future justice involvement. For mental health and wellbeing. For all of these things. And if we are leaving people out of the workforce, that's only creating more unstable societies and unsafer communities for us all.

Rosie: Right. Okay. So now I'm thinking from an employer perspective. And I was a Director of Finance at a charity where I ended up having to investigate an accusation of theft by one of our employees in one of our offices. And I ended up even having to testify in court about it. But to the point about record checks, I mean, everybody would have gone through a record check when they were hired and that clearly still doesn't stop theft from happening or fraud from happening.

So should we just stop doing police checks altogether? Like is there a benefit to doing the police checks or at least a way that we could do that is more equitable? 

Safiyah: Yeah, I think. I mean, absolutely I agree with you. I think that just relying on police record checks just doesn't make sense by themselves. That's what the research keeps telling us. So what we suggest is that there may be circumstances where police record check is helpful and can be used as part of a recruitment process, but there should be a lot of thought and considerations put into how that's used. So it should definitely not be a blanket policy. It's only in certain circumstances where there's justification for it. And then also going through a process of determining in advance, for example, what level of check is necessary and always using the least intrusive level of check possible, and then deciding in advance as well, what results are relevant? You know, not all positive results on a police record check are going to be relevant to that position. And somebody may have a conviction. That is not even relevant to the position at all. It has nothing to do with the person's duties, so that should be thought of in advance to prevent somebody from just dismissing somebody that has a record outright.

And then there's also processes in place that can be done to kind of mitigate any sort of stigma or discrimination. So one suggestion is if possible, if there's a big enough company and an HR team to have designated individuals who are able to look at a record check and only do that once that person has passed all other interviews and they've decided that this is an excellent candidate. This is a person that we're really considering for this position and have a conditional offer extended to them. And only at that point, conduct a record check and potentially have a different individual review the check. And so that, that person's direct supervisor would not have that information.

There's a lot of different pieces that can be done to really manage this in a way that respects individuals rights. And it's done thoughtfully and takes into consideration all of the research and information about police record checks so that it's not just relied upon as the only way to test whether somebody is appropriate for your position.

And we do have resources. The John Howard Society of Ontario has a website that's sort of dedicated to this issue. The And there are all these resources for employers to kind of be able to go through and see, how do you decide if a record check is necessary? What questions should you be asking about the position? And how does one go through those considerations?

Rosie: Awesome. Okay. We're definitely going to point people to that in the show notes. What would be covered in the lowest level of checks? So I would think for most corporate or office positions, you don't need to do an extensive check. So what would be covered in the lowest level of check? 

Safiyah: So in the first level of check, the criminal records check. It's just criminal convictions. So that's actual findings of guilt that are on your record. And that's the level of check that is often the most appropriate. You know, if it is necessary to do a police record check, you often don't need any more information than that for the position. And so in most cases, that can be the level that people can use.

Rosie: Okay. So I actually am interested in your personal opinion on this because I'm kind of thinking, well, if there was a criminal conviction, let's say someone even went to jail, right. And, you know, did their time in prison and whatever the sentence was. They did their full prison sentence. Is that even really relevant that they had done that in the past? Other than, I mean, I can think of lots of extra special situations, especially coming from a charity working with children, that's the vulnerable sector you talked about. But even the mail room clerk, right. That's unfortunately where we see a lot of ex-criminals ending up getting positions with very little responsibility cause that's all people will even give them the chance for. But why should someone with a previous criminal record, why should that really matter, in a job that's unrelated to whatever they committed the crime about? What are your personal thoughts on that? 

Safiyah: I think that's a huge point that if we have faith in the justice system then we should be allowing people another opportunity, a second chance, to continue and to be part of this workforce and to contribute positively. Because without that we're doing a disservice to us all. And I think out of a fairness perspective as well. Everybody has the opportunity to grow and learn, and we've all made mistakes. I don't think any one of us can ever say that we haven't done something in the past that, you know, caused some harm or that we regret. And so these mistakes don't define us and we're able to grow and I think there should be the opportunity for that recognition within employment as well. And I think that education piece is the really important part of this. That's sort of some of the work that we do as well around educating employers, so that if you decide a record check is necessary. If you determine which results are relevant.

So, you know, let's say you're interviewing for a treasury position. Somebody who's working with a large amount of money for the organization, and you determined that potentially fraud charges are going to be relevant fraud convictions just because of the specific position and the duties and responsibilities, then that should be kind of a narrow focus. And even then there should be the opportunity to ask questions. You know, If you've determined throughout the interview process and all of the other reference checks that this person is wonderful and really capable. Why not ask a couple of questions? Say, you know, we've seen on your record check that you have this charge. Can you tell us a bit more about that? Or is there anything that we can chat about and that person might have the opportunity to explain what happened, how they've learned and grown from it, what they've done since. And I think it's important for us to give people that chance and be able to make sure that we're all able to positively contribute.

Rosie: I totally agree with what you're saying. And I also have to confess in my own human side and certainly my privileged side that even as I'm thinking about this. It's an unfair position, but it does feel uncomfortable to think about hiring somebody with a criminal record when all of the emphasis in my career to date has been, you get a clean record before you actually confirm. And you never expect people, especially in corporate jobs or whatever, to have criminal records. So, I just want to acknowledge that totally in principle that makes complete sense. I think that people deserve second chances. I know I've needed plenty of second chances. Not around crimes, but other mistakes cause we are all human. But recognizing that it is not a comfortable feeling necessarily, and that is something that we should probably all be wrestling with and thinking about how do we give people second chances because everybody deserves second, third, fourth chances really right in life. Do you know of any employers or examples, maybe of people who have been also thinking that way? Like, I hope this isn't just like a policy idea, right? I would like to see some companies taking this up.

Safiyah: Yeah, well, I think there's been sort of an interest in this more and more. And we're sort of in the works of a campaign looking at that and trying to promote second chance hiring and more inclusive hiring with different companies, organizations, and getting buy-in from different companies around that.

So that's something in the works, but we've seen even in the US, there's been some bigger companies that have made it public that they are an inclusive hiring inclusive employer. If you look at in Canada, there are millions of people with a record. So I think the number is actually about 1 in 9 Canadians have a record of criminal conviction. So that's findings of guilt and even more people than that, will have non-conviction information, you know, interactions or withdrawn charges or things like that on their record. So this is not a small group of people. This is people we know, our neighbors, like a huge part of our communities. And these are people that we need to make sure are meaningfully included in the labor market and given opportunities for schooling and education and placements. And so I think it's absolutely important that we start to see more and more people take this on. And that the people that do, see really positive results. You often hear from employers that once they've hired somebody who might've had some justice involvement in their past, they're some of their best employees. And they're dedicated and hardworking and just really passionate about doing the best that they can. And so I think it's actually a disservice to employers as well, to exclude anybody with a record because you might be missing out on incredible people.

Rosie: Oh my gosh. I'm blown away by that, that statistic, that 1 in 9 Canadians have some kind of a record that would show up on one of these checks.  And I've seen in the media the stats on how disproportionately incarcerated or probably convicted Black and Indigenous and people of colour are. If 1 in 9 Canadians have some kind of a record, I can only imagine how many that would translate to, in terms of Black and racialized people versus white people. 

Safiyah: Yeah, we definitely know that Black and Indigenous folks are hugely overrepresented in the criminal justice system. In our jails and prisons. And then obviously, you know, in the populations that have a criminal record. So those impacts are going to be especially profound and those barriers are there.

There's also research to suggest that somebody who is racialized or Black or Indigenous may have a harder time with a record than somebody who is white with a record and kind of going through employment processes because of the additional impacts of systemic racism, as well as the stigma of a record and how that kind of interplays. So there's absolutely huge barriers and this does have an impact on racialized communities for sure.

Rosie: Have a harder time meaning white people with a record might more easily get a second chance then a Black person with a record. 

Safiyah: Yeah, there was a study looking at callbacks and how successful people were with the recruitment process. Now I'm trying to recall if it was Black or Indigenous or both, but the impacts were seen more profoundly for those populations than for white populations seeking employment with a record.

Rosie: Okay. So what I'm taking away from this too, is that employers, as much as there are many employers out there who are taking good initiative to diversify the workforce. Intentionally try to hire, or at least have a population of candidates that has more Black, Indigenous and racialized people in them.

I think that they need to really seriously consider their evaluation criteria. And this is not. Do not mistake me. This is not saying that Black and Indigenous and racialized people are more likely to be criminals. In fact, I think what I'm trying to say is the opposite, because from everything you've shared with us today is. They may have a record.

But A, it may not have been fair that they would have a record and B it may not even really matter, or you know, a lot of context behind it or it's not relevant to what we want them to do today. So if employers are serious about diversifying their workforce, they need to really think about giving consideration to this and not just on the surface. Dismissing a Black candidate with a record versus a white candidate without a record.

They really need to dig into what's happening behind it and not just say well, that person, whatever the race is, has that or not. 

Safiyah: Yeah, absolutely. I think there's so many factors at play here and reasons why certain groups and marginalized folks are overrepresented in the justice system. And it's not because these populations are more prone to crime. It is often because there are so many other issues and a lack of supports, a lack of services. And all of these things kind of contribute to interactions with the justice system. And so again, it's just so important. Employment is such a huge piece for preventing interactions with the justice system and preventing, you know, recidivism, once somebody has already interacted with the justice system. Ensuring that people can have stable housing and that they're able to take care of themselves and their family. So it's a huge area where we can actually really create positive change and a ripple effect.

Rosie: Amazing. Okay. So just to wrap up this incredible insightful conversation. I'm kind of thinking of two sides of the coin. I wonder if you could first give some advice or thoughts for people who do have a criminal record of some kind, and now they're looking for work. How can they handle that or maybe manage that with future employers or schools so that they get a more fair chance. 

Safiyah: I keep plugging this website, but just because it has a ton of resources on it. And I know there's only so many things that I can say here, but if people are wondering does have a number of resources for individuals including this e-learning module and guides people through the process of how they can think about disclosing their record, what their rights are, what employers might ask and how they might do so. And how they can prepare for those questions.

So it is a very daunting thing and people rightfully so have, fear and anxiety about talking about their record and how it's going to come up in job interviews. And so I think one of the things that we talked about in the learning module is to kind of be prepared for the question and recognize that they do have choice.

So it is, you know, especially under the act. Nobody's going to get their record without their consent. And oftentimes of course you have to consider that if you do not consent to a record check that may affect your chances of getting that job, but it's still a matter of whether or not you're comfortable with that record check going to that potential employer.

And you getting a chance to see it first, perhaps. There's also recommendations we have around just preparing to talk about your record. So, like I mentioned earlier. Sometimes we encourage employers to give people a chance to kind of talk about their record. And especially if this is something that, you know, happened a long time ago or something that is just a blip in time for you. To be able to talk about how you've grown since then, what the context was around the conviction that you have or the record that you have. And how you're able to still contribute positively and then kind of turn that around. And I often think of it, it's like if you have a transcript and you had a bad grade, you know, that doesn't mean you're a horrible student and oftentimes it's just a matter of giving you a chance to kind of explain what happened and talk about how you've learned and grown since then and that you can still be an excellent person for that position. So being comfortable talking about it, practicing beforehand, talking with their friends or family so that you can get, you know, a little bit more comfortable having those conversations and then going in knowing, how an employer is able to ask what they might ask, when they might ask it , can also help just ease some of those anxieties. And knowing that, although it is a daunting task and there is absolutely stigma out there. It is so possible to have a really meaningful career with a criminal record and to not let that prevent you from getting out there.

Rosie: Awesome. And Safiyah I'm thinking from an HR department perspective. Say I'm an HR person and listening to this, I'm really convinced now It's like, okay, we don't need to do as many criminal checks, or maybe we only do the most basic level for certain positions, but I have to convince my CEO or my department head or whoever why that is okay.

When we've always done this. And it's just standard procedure. How can I explain to my boss, why we need to scale back on criminal checks? 

Safiyah: Yeah, I think we hear this all the time. That employers, when they're asked, you know, why they conduct the record checks for everyone. It's because, you know, this is what we've always done or that other company does it. So I feel like I need to do it. And there's not an actual reason that they've kind of thought through about why they're conducting these checks. And I think the bottom line is that it comes down to, this is not an effective predictor of future behavior and it's not an effective risk management tool or a liability management tool. It actually can be working in your detriment if you're relying on this. And not putting in place other safety mechanisms. So even for example, when somebody has been hired. If they are in charge of a large amount of money, making sure that there's multiple signatories on those accounts, making sure that there's a probationary period where there's extra supervision to kind of ease somebody into a, a position.

All of these other things can be done to mitigate risks. And just relying on a police record check to sort of identify who is trustworthy, who is not, is not effective and is not going to be a good management strategy for your company. So I think it's kind of recognizing what the utility of record checks actually is. And then thinking about how you're going to use that effectively as part of your recruitment practices.

Rosie: You're totally singing my song as a professional accountant too right. Cause it's all about internal controls and actually you're making me see that the criminal record check. That's really a detect measure, but an even faultier detect measure. In the accounting profession, we talk about preventative measures as the better way to stop theft and future crime, because you're trying to deter it from even happening. And if you're just detecting it, you can only detect it after the fact. And same thing with this criminal check, you're just detecting essentially what someone's done like years and years ago. hat doesn't mean that they're going to do the exact same thing again. If they're smart and we hope to hire smart people, they would have learned how to not get caught. So, yeah, it really doesn't make sense to me now that you say it as a way to detect future crime, for sure. 

Safiyah: Even police services were saying they wanted to regulate this a little bit, and this was something that they were interested in making more clear on what information was going to be released. And so there is buy-in from some of the police associations as well. So it's interesting that there was number of different organizations that kind of came together to say, we need to standardize this process a little bit. And I think there's a constant process we can be going through of rethinking how we're using these police record checks, you know, when we're using them and continue to be sort of critical about that practice as a whole.

Rosie: Well, that's so good to know Safiyah. So this also important context for us to remember. That the police reform act wasn't just, somebody said the police were doing bad things and we're going to slap this law on them and force them to do things better from now on. It's people, including the police recognized that we needed a better system and it wasn't good and working the way it was.

And they were part of the process in reforming the way criminal checks are done. So, yeah, that's, that's really important. 

Safiyah: Yeah, absolutely. I think the chiefs of police that was you know, working with John Howard Society of Ontario. And CCLA the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, we worked closely with them on this. There was kind of a long process of trying to create this change.

And we're seeing more and more that even employers are asking questions, like we've been doing this for so long, but how can we change? How can we do this differently? And sometimes there's just a lack of awareness of what to do and how it can be done differently and a fear as you say about risk. You know, every employer worries when they're going through a hiring process of, will this be appropriate person for our company and how can we figure out all of these things during that recruitment process? So I absolutely recognize those considerations and those feelings. And I think it's up to all of us. And this has been sort of a collaborative approach so far, but there's so many questions we can continue to be asking ourselves.

Rosie: Well, Safiyah I first just want to thank you and your team and all the people that your organization partners with for this incredible advocacy and work that you've done. So really grateful to you and all the dedicated people that are behind us and trying to help, especially giving people the second chances. I hope that people start to recognize this publicly, what you guys are doing. So I think it's awesome. You've provided us incredible insight and lots of great resources. I will repeat again. It's right?

Safiyah: Yep that's it.

Rosie: So it sounds like the first place people should go. If you're listening and looking for some resources and open to doing things a different way, especially as you're trying to be more inclusive in your hiring. Please go to and check out all the different learning and training and stuff they have there. If there's some more follow up for you Safiyah or need some extra pointers on where to go, how to get some help. Is there a way to get in touch with you or with John Howard Society for that? 

Safiyah: Yeah.

absolutely. You can definitely follow us on Twitter. We're @ JHSontario Feel free to check that out, we also talk about some of the other projects that we're releasing and that we have released recently. And if anybody wants to get in contact with me directly I can give my email address and I'd be happy to have further conversations about this stuff.

I can talk about this all day and you can reach me at S Husein, So So please do get in touch if you have any other questions.

Rosie: Yeah, well, Safiyah I could talk to you all day about this too. Thanks for providing that information. And we will have all of this on our show notes as well. And the show notes can be found on my website, which is I hope to continue this conversation in some way and, and just look to maybe get some updates on how your work is going Safiyah, because I do really hope to see that flourish and succeed and see more people take up your cause. 

Safiyah: Absolutely. Thank you so much. It's been really great to be here today. 

Rosie: Yeah. Same to you. Take care. 

Safiyah: Thanks. Bye-bye.


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Rosie: And listeners, if you found Safiyah changed your lens and want to hear more insights like this, please subscribe to the Changing Lenses podcast, wherever you'd like to listen. And if you'd like more ideas on how to make your organization more inclusive and equitable for all people, please head over to my website,, where you'll find free resources and ways to get in touch. Until next time, I'm Rosie Yeung, your Guide to Changing Lenses.

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