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Toronto Shoplifting and Theft Under $5000 Charges Lawyer

What the CPIC (Canadian Police Information Center) database is and its potential consequences for those who are checked for a history of criminal charges.

Just being charged (given a Form 9 Appearance Notice or Form 10 Undertaking) with theft under $5000/shoplifting or any other criminal offence creates a CPIC record that can show up on employment background checks, cause denials/problems when travelling to the US, and cause issues with Canadian immigration even if the charges are ultimately withdrawn.

CPIC is a law enforcement database that all police departments across Canada use to share information. It is maintained by the RCMP and can be searched by all police forces, US Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security, the FBI, and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Additionally, the RCMP have agreements with certain employment background check companies to release information about convictions, discharges, pending charges and other information matching the name/date of birth of a job applicant.

While CPIC is not a publicly accessible database, its information is released to certain third parties which can cause problems with employment, US travel, and Canadian immigration for those who are charged with criminal offences regardless of the eventual outcome of their case. CPIC records/entries are created for all people charged with theft under $5000 (shoplifting) even if the charge is ultimately withdrawn or put through a diversion program though sometimes this information can later be destroyed.

How does CPIC work?

The database is designed to respond to "queries" and provide a score on the likelihood in which a person matches any entries collected in the database. People are identified and assigned a score out of 30 based on their known personal information such as their:
  1. name, names used in the past, aliases
  2. address and past known addresses
  3. place of birth
  4. employment information
  5. date of birth and birthdays used or given in the past
  6. description (height, weight, race, tattoos, piercings, etc)
  7. fingerprints
  8. mugshot and possibly photos of tattoos, scars, and other markings
  9. known associates
For each person who has an entry in CPIC, their police history is included such as:
  1. pending charges
  2. past charges
  3. pardons received
  4. case dispositions or outcomes (withdrawn, probation, jail, etc.)
  5. current criminal investigations ongoing
  6. that the individual was suspected of criminal activity in the past
  7. information on the person's mental health or medical status
How long it takes for information to be entered into, updated, and removed from CPIC and how it creates potential problems with employment background checks, travelling, and immigration.

The problem for people who are charged criminally is that their name, date of birth, and other identification information along with what they are charged with (i.e. theft under $5000) is being entered into the CPIC system within hours of their arrest. While information is posted into CPIC within hours of an arrest showing that you have been charged it can take years for the system to be updated to show what the disposition (end result) of the case was. Even charges that were withdrawn over a year ago may cause you to be flagged by employers as having a criminal case before the courts that is awaiting a disposition.

Third party employment background checks obtained with the consent of the potential) employer showing information from CPIC.

There are several companies that are often used by employers to screen potential employees. They each have different agreements with the RCMP to flag or indicate potential employees are "not clear" in the CPIC system for specific reasons. What is potentially released as not clear depends on which company is doing the background check.

Not every company follows the same protocol as to what is released

There are numerous background check companies in the Toronto area. At a minimum, each appears to have an agreement with the RCMP to provide a "not clear" result on names and date of births matching:
  1. convictions
  2. absolute discharges within one year of the sentence
  3. conditional discharges within three years of the sentences
  4. fines, suspended sentences, conditional sentences (house arrest), jail, and penitentiary sentences (for which no Records Suspension/Pardon has been received)
The case showing as Pending/Awaiting Disposition in CPIC is sometimes released by the background check company as a "not clear" result to employers even years after a charge has already been withdrawn

Some companies take this even further and provide a "not clear" for charges listing as pending or awaiting disposition. The problem is that even if a criminal charge was withdrawn a year before, the CPIC system will still show it as "awaiting disposition". Some background check companies declare you to be "not clear" because this information has not been updated. In reality, the job applicant’s case may have been withdrawn already without any finding of guilt or conviction being registered against them long ago.

What information is provided to the employer’s background check company?

The RCMP do not provide information about what the specific charges were, just simply that a name and date of birth matches an entry in the system. This means the employer has no idea what the circumstances or charges were. They don't know whether the applicant is a convicted child pornographer, someone who was involved in a domestic dispute, or someone who was accused of theft, fraud, mischief, or some other property crime.

They also don't have 100% confirmation that the person in the CPIC system is the actual job applicant because theoretically it could be someone else with the same name and birthday. Fingerprint analysis is needed to positively identify the information 100%. Despite this, employers often simply retract the job offer at the first sight of seeing something not clear as it is not worth their time to look any further into it. Some employers, including those involving IT, finances, and business jobs have a policy to only hire applicants whose background check comes back as clear.

System particularly unfair to self-represented individuals who went through the system on their own

As our clients are often professionals and university or college students these issues routinely come up and sometimes we are able to submit letters and other court documents to the school, employer or hiring agency to prove our clients charges were withdrawn allowing them to get the job.

For those without legal representation, they are often blindsided by the charge showing up and lack the ability to fix it. These are time sensitive issues and for those who are unprepared there is often no solution as large employers will simply move on to the next candidate. This is particularly unfair to individuals who were unable to hire a lawyer as they have no one to confirm what happened with the case to the potential employer.

Those who require US travel visas (for pleasure, work, study, or other reasons) and who need to be issued an I-94 at the border before entering are more likely to have US Customs run a search for them in the CPIC system.

We routinely get calls from people who report that US customs ran a CPIC query and discovered a shoplifting charge when they tried to cross the border upon waiting to be stamped in/fingerprinted and issued an I-94 in their passport. There seems to be a high correlation between having been issued an I-94 and having a CPIC search made which can lead to being refused entry into the United States if the traveller does not have the proper court paperwork and knows how to answer the questions properly. Often being refused entry takes the form of being given the option of a voluntary withdrawal.

For travellers with Canadian Passports it is rare to be issued an I-94 but it does happen on occasion. Canadian Passport holders who must be sent to secondary screening (perhaps because they require a work or study permit) have a high likelihood of US Customs running a CPIC check and discovering the theft/fraud charge(s)

It appears that US Customs normally do not run CPIC queries on every traveller. This being said, they have the power to do so if they wish. It seems as though they are more likely to run a CPIC query if they are suspicious of a particular person, however they may also randomly search the system in some circumstances. Regardless of what Passport you hold (including Canadian), if you are not a US Citizen US customs can deny you entry into the US based on information about you in the CPIC system.

This information includes withdrawn/diverted charges, charges before the courts (or that they think still are because the system is slow to be updated), findings of guilt or convictions (criminal records), being suspected of or investigated for criminal offences (perhaps without you even knowing), being arrested for, charged, and subsequently found not guilty or acquitted of criminal offences, being the subject of mental health or suicide related calls to the police, having a known history of drug use, and more.

Can US Customs/Homeland Security or the FBI download the CPIC database and store it permanently in their own computer system?

Homeland Security practices are not public information however it is speculated that upon running a CPIC search and discovering a criminal history that US Customs will download this information into their computer system and retain it indefinitely. This may mean they also red flag the traveller so that if subsequent attempts to cross the border are made their refusal history and criminality automatically pops up in the system when their passport is scanned.

Does the US routinely download/store the entire CPIC database on their own?

If US Customs have full access to the CPIC system one must also wonder whether they actively download the entire database and store it permanently in their own computer system (possibly having its entries show up when a person's passport is swiped or scanned).

Canadians are often told that the RCMP CPIC database information has been destroyed/purged when the fingerprint destruction process is complete. In the case of a withdrawn charge, the person's name/date of birth, fingerprints, mugshot, and information about what they were charged with (theft, fraud, mischief under $5000 etc.) still was accessible in CPIC for 2.5 - 3 years at a minimum. If the US periodically downloads the complete database on its own it would not matter whether the information is eventually destroyed by the RCMP because the US would have stored their own copy of it in their system.

Accordingly, we cannot say for sure that even after an entry of a criminal charge is removed (perhaps in the case of a withdrawn charge, absolute/conditional discharge, or pardon) that the US cannot still access this deleted information as it may be stored permanently in their own database. Moreover, US Customs may also have access to the local Toronto Police (or York, Peel, Durham, Halton, etc.) database which would show the charging information even after the fingerprints have been destroyed.

News reports of border deals have recently pointed to increase of the sharing of information to make the border more efficient

These procedures and practices are top level security information that is not released to the public however lately there have been news articles about an increase in information sharing between the Canadian and US Governments. These press releases are often promoted to the public as easing border wait times. Privacy advocates raise questions over what information we are giving up.

To the average Canadian who has no idea how easily it is to be charged they often do not appreciate how this sharing of information could negatively impact their ability to travel to the US (until they get charged of course). The politics of this mean nothing to us however we feel it is important that the public be aware of these issues.

US Customs seems to consider absolute and conditional discharges along with records suspensions (pardons) as findings of guilt which could possibly cause a traveller to be denied entry.

If US Customs runs a CPIC query on a traveller and sees they received an absolute or conditional discharge this can cause them to be refused entry into the US because there is no such thing as a discharge in American law. While Canada's criminal justice system often offers some offenders a chance to avoid a criminal conviction record despite being found guilty, this is not necessarily recognized by US Customs. The same is true for Canadian Records Suspensions (Pardons). Even if you received a Pardon for your offence this is not recognized in US law.

This is public information that is recorded in the U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual Volume 9 (Visas). The relevant section reads as follows:
9 FAM 40.21(a) N3.6 Suspending Sentence, Probation, etc., Relating to Convictions (CT:VISA-1318; 09-24-2009)

An alien who has been convicted and whose sentence has been suspended or reduced, mitigated, or commuted, or who has been convicted and has been granted probation or parole or has otherwise been relieved in whole or in part of the penalty imposed, is nevertheless, considered to have been convicted. Suspending or deferring a sentence and imposing probation is an act of clemency, not a right of the defendant alien.
While the wording is somewhat confusing and differs from most of the language commonly used by Canadian courts and lawyers, this section can be interpreted by the border officer to define Canadian non-convictions as convictions for the purposes of being deemed inadmissible to the US. The use of the word probation leads some to believe that a conditional discharge, which almost always includes a sentence of probation, is more likely to be problematic than an absolute discharge which does not include probation.

While this is likely true, the wording "or has otherwise been relieved in whole or in part of the penalty imposed" could apply to absolute discharges as well and even possibly diversion non-convictions. The US has given wide discretion to their border officers to determine the admissibility of any non US Citizen. The interpretation of these provisions may vary depending on the officer at the point of entry (land, sea, or airport).

US Customs discover non-conviction information by searching the CPIC system and for this reason it is important to have any and all information removed from CPIC as quickly as possible. This being said, removing the CPIC entry may not be a complete solution as the information may have already been downloaded and retained by the US previously or accessible through the local police force database as detailed above.

How charges in the CPIC system can cause issues with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) applications

As least half of our clients are in various stages of the immigration system. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) uses the CPIC system to determine whether an immigrant has a criminal record, outstanding charge, or other records of criminality. As noted above, while the police are extremely quick at putting information into the system to show that you have been charged (often within a few hours of arrest), they are extremely slow at updating the system to show the disposition (result) of the case. This means that defendants are often required to supply special court documentation and send their fingerprints to IRCC because of the charges despite what happened with their case.

Sometimes IRCC will want proof that the Crown has elected to proceed summarily and not by indictment because indictable convictions may cause the immigrant to be deemed inadmissible and/or deportable from Canada.

Cases that go missing or where no information is sworn before the court

Approximately 1 percent of cases result in the police officer forgetting to provide the proper documentation to the court. As a result "no information is sworn before the court". This can create a whole new set of problems for the accused because US Customs, IRCC, and potential employers/professional regulatory bodies often will want to see the "criminal information" (court paperwork) to determine what happened to the case. In the CPIC system these individuals will show to have a case "awaiting disposition" and the paperwork proving otherwise simply does not exist.

Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution to this issue however we are often by application able to have the CPIC entry removed.

Call us today for a free assessment

You don't have to jeopardize your future or waste thousands of dollars on excessive legal fees. We provide effective and affordable lawyer representation for those charged with all forms of theft and fraud related offences throughout Ontario, Canada.

Have a skilled criminal lawyer who focuses on theft and fraud related charges protect you and your future from the stigma and consequences of a criminal record.

Your case will be defended by a fully licensed Practicing Lawyer of the Law Society of Ontario. For more information about our lawyer, click here.

We provide our clients with:
  • Flat fee pricing
  • US travel advice and information
  • Employment background check advice/services
  • Fingerprints and records destruction services
  • Clear goals of getting charges dropped and bail conditions varied without a trial
  • Help with related immigration issues
  • Vulnerable Sector records suppression help
  • Experienced, focused counsel

* Please note:

If you are not a paying client, we cannot answer questions and provide assistance with U.S. travel, immigration, employment background checks, and avoiding a criminal record. This includes those who have already retained other counsel and those whose cases have already been completed. We also only take calls/emails relating to Ontario, Canada area cases.

Are you a lawyer? If you are defending a theft or fraud related case and are looking for expert advice regarding possible defences, case strategies, and information release management call us at: 647-228-5969.

Please note: We do not accept legal aid certificate cases. All clients are handled on a private retainer only.


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  • Help with related immigration issues
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  • Vulnerable Sector records suppression help
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