B.C. is the only province where charges and convictions in provincial court are posted on a public database as well as being available to courthouse visitors.
One problem is that the information has been used by employers or landlords for criminal record checks that may find a charge but not the later acquittal. Another is posting the imposition of a peace bond, which can leave the false impression that someone has been convicted of an offence.
Thomas Crabtree, chief judge of the B.C. Provincial Court, is reviewing the practice of posting court records online, and is seeking public input until Sept. 18.
Court Services Online has been available since 2008, allowing anyone to search by name or case number to find information on charges, court appearances and sentences.
The online information is blocked if the accused is acquitted, charges are withdrawn, a publication ban is ordered or when a pardon is later granted to seal the record of a conviction. Absolute discharge conviction records are removed from the public database after a year, and conditional discharges after three years. A stay of proceedings means the online case file is blocked after a year, although records for all cases remain at court registries for access in person.
In a consultation memo on the issue, Crabtree notes that B.C.’s Court Services Online help desk received frequent requests to use the service as a criminal record check.
The memo says that when information on acquittals was still available, the service received “a significant number” of complaints of negative effects from public access to charges that did not lead to conviction. Some people said they only realized the information was public when they were sent a link by co-workers or employers.
The memo offers several options for dealing with peace bonds, which are ordered to restrict activities of parties in a dispute and are currently left online indefinitely.
Submissions from the public can be made by email to email@example.com or by mail to:
Office of the Chief Judge, Provincial Court of B.C., 337-800 Hornby Street, Vancouver B.C. V6Z 2C5.