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Getting past the criminal record

With the legalization of marijuana, employers could be missing out on valuable candidates, judging by initiatives in the United States
Powered By Canadian HR ReporterWorkplace - HR Policies||Written By Kael Campbell
Getting past the criminal record
Faced with high employment levels in the 2000s and the need to support deployed troops overseas, the United States army decided to relax the requirements for recruits, so it ended up hiring 4,862 convicted felons from 2002 until 2009. Credit: BPTU (Shutterstock)

With Canada’s estimated annual marijuana market at $8.7 billion, there are thousands of talented people who have developed and supplied this market for decades.

Imagine receiving a resumé stating: “Detail-oriented manager with experience successfully managing a modern agricultural production, distribution and retail operation. Ensured the marketing, delivery and sale of branded products to thousands of happy, repeat clients throughout Canada. Delivered consistent profits with annual revenue growth rates exceeding 10 per cent.”

But many of these people may also have one glaring drawback — a criminal record. Is this so bad? Where are the statistics that say people with a criminal record make for bad employees?

As we start 2018, with Canada set to legalize marijuana, there will be thousands of people who were convicted of minor drug offences who may be ineligible for jobs because of decisions they made in the past.

Many job ads today state criminal record checks will be done. This means millions of Canadians simply don’t apply, while employers choose not to hire great candidates because they did something that was once illegal but is now embraced by politicians.

U.S. proponents

They would be making a mistake, according to a study south of the border, which found convicted criminal records not only made for better employees, but had higher retention rates and made for better leaders.

Faced with high employment levels in the 2000s and the need to support deployed troops overseas, the United States army decided to relax the requirements for recruits, so it ended up hiring 4,862 convicted felons from 2002 until 2009. Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., went on to analyze their length of service, promotions and reasons for separation, and then compared them to 1.3 million enlistees without felony convictions.

It found those with criminal records were no more likely to be terminated before completing their contracts, or to face disciplinary action. On the other hand, army recruits with felony convictions were five per cent more likely to achieve promotions, and they were also promoted quicker.

Yes, some employment environments may be more relaxed and less structured than the U.S. army but, given the chance, a person who has built good habits in one environment will carry them into the next. The likelihood of hiring a top-performing employee is a pretty convincing argument to try out a candidate.

U.S. employers and politicians are increasingly realizing that the 70 million Americans with a criminal record deserve employment, and are turning to both legislative and business solutions. Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, for example, created a pledge that 80 companies so far have signed, committing themselves to consider hiring qualified candidates with criminal convictions.

The U.S. also provides a financial incentive to employers for hiring those with a criminal. Under the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, a maximum tax credit of US$2,400 per employee is available through a program running until at least 2019.

Implications for Canada

About 3.8 million Canadians — 23 per cent men and 4.3 per cent women — have a criminal record, according to the John Howard Society. Additionally, a large percentage of people who have criminal records are Indigenous, meaning that criminal record checks could disproportionately disadvantage this population. Of the 3.8 million, 500,000 have minor drug offences, according to Canada’s Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor, speaking to the CBC in November.

But Canada has another compelling reason for employers to consider rehabilitated people — Correctional Service Canada’s non-profit organization called CORCAN. It offers employment training and employability skills to offenders in federal correctional institutions. The organization produces thousands of job-ready employees every year.

Trained by professionals and working day in and day out, they specialize in fields that include construction, maintenance and manufacturing.

CORCAN is a self-funding organization that also partners with private and not-for-profit sector groups. From building housing for Habitat for Humanity, to manufacturing office furniture to rebuilding military ambulances, CORCAN uses the skills of professionals to train and develop those with aptitude and interest.

As unemployment levels continue to drop in Canada — currently below six per cent — employers in southern Ontario and British Columbia are seeing a tightening of available talent. They are complaining that it is tough to even get people to show up for interviews, much less find new employees to hire. Turning to those with a criminal record, and even those recently released from prison, is a really good option.

Beyond the business case to hire people with criminal records, there is also a social case. By helping a person gain employment, we greatly reduce the risk that people will re-offend. This reduces crime in our communities, and reduces the cost to victims of crime, police, courts and our prison systems.

Kael Campbell is president of Red Seal Recruiting Solutions in Victoria. For more information, visit or call (855) 733-7325.