How does Toronto handle job applicants with criminal pasts?

Blue sky over Toronto City Hall, winter 2016

A criminal conviction alone won't get your resume slipped into the shredder at Toronto City Hall, though the city has the legal right to do just that.

Questions emerged last week on NEWSTALK 1010's The Rush about whether the city was practicing what it preaches when it comes to offering people with criminal pasts an opportunity to break cycles of poverty, desperation, and violence through meaningful work and pay.

Access to employment, community programs, and housing have been described by civic leaders as key components to prevent future violence after a recent spike in shootings.

While the city cannot offer information about whether there are people with past convictions on their payroll, spokesperson Brad Ross clarified Monday that a criminal record itself would not preclude someone from being hired.

Candidates intent on working with vulnerable Torontonians like children and the elderly are subject to more intense scrutiny and criminal background checks.

But for other posts, Ross says an applicant in the running would be invited to share more information about their record. The city would consider factors like whether the crime is relevant to the position and the recentness of the offence.

Employers do have wide latitude to reject applicants with criminal pasts out of hand, especially if they have not been formally pardoned.

Isreal Balter, an employment lawyer with Levitt LLP says the power is enshrined in human rights legislation.

"If they haven't received a pardon, then they're out of luck and an employer can say 'well, we don't trust you because you have a criminal offence," Balter says.

But Balter explains even pardoned job-hunters could be stonewalled if their crime is viewed to be related to the work they're aiming to be paid for.

Balter believes we need to have frank discussions about how long it is fair to make people suffer for their mistakes.

"How do you get to first base if you've already been convicted?"

Mayor John Tory shared a similar sentiment on the Rush last Tuesday when asked about city hiring practices.

"When somebody has their first criminal conviction, if you don't make an effort to train them, get them a skill, help them get a job, then the chances are dramatically higher that they're going to be involved in trouble with the law again, and sooner or later you head off on a path from which there is no return," Tory told NEWSTALK 1010's Ryan Doyle.

In 2018, Tory pushed for a job fair in Rexdale focused on helping people with past convictions find jobs. He'd also the federal government to restore funding for a prison program aimed at giving inmates skills for employment once they're released.