Actually, they send your finger prints to CSIS.
They are then sent a hard copy of your criminal record and depending on the seriousness of your offence they will either accept a verbal explaination, or put you through a process to determine wether or not to grant you Enhanced Reliability Status.
Receiving your finger prints can take from a relatively short time, to a really long time depending. I was informed by the Captain reviewing my file that he could expediate the process "if he so choose to do so". In the end he did, but I had a weapons restriction still in effect at the time, and my file was closed because you need to be 6 months free of ANY obligation to the judicial system.
Anyway, back to the present, I have been through the process to determine my Enhanced Reliability Status, and I can tell you that if they find your criminal record to be sufficiently serious, they will make you go through the process too.
You will be asked to retrive a number of documents including: All legal documentation in regards to your conviction, letters from your parole/probation officer/s, letter from your cousellors detailing nature of treatment your progress etc., additional letters of reference from your previous employers over the last 5 years, and a letter from you detailing every nuance of the incident in question, why you did what you did, and what you learned from it.
They then convene a board to either grant you "ERS" or deny it to you. At this stage your file will be scrutinised by a senior officer, in my case a Lieutenant-Colonel.
They will of course verify everything you submit, and what they are trying to determine is if you have sufficiently proved yourself to be trustworthy in the context of National Security and Defense.
Honesty is not the best policy, it is the only policy, get caught omiting anything here and you‘re done for good.
To answer the question "Is it normal for the background check to be done first if CFRC knows about a criminal record?"
Yes it is normal, because if your Enhanced Reliability Status is in question it is a total waste of time and effort to allow you to proceed with your application until you have been granted this status.
It doesn‘t really matter what stage of your application you are on, if they discover a criminal record, everything will cease until this issue is cleared up.
Example, you are schedualed for a PT/Medical test 2 weeks away, but they discover the criminal record and decide to give you questionable status, they will almost certainly cancel those appointments, until a decision is reached.
In my case it took me twelve weeks to gather all the required information to make my case.
In the end I proved myself to have made sufficient progress in my life, and have demonstrated reliability and trustworthiness in employment to such a degree that they felt I would not be a security risk. I was granted ERS
Now after almost 2 years of trying, I‘m at the waiting stage (all my testing/interviews are done) Only I‘m holding my breath moreso than most other people because of the criminal record. It‘s a pretty significant minus to have on your file, and a lot of people will be selected ahead of me because of it. I‘m crossing my fingers for a big recruitment season.
The reason I‘m telling you this is to let you know that the criminal record is likely to slow down your recruitment process considerably, and you need to be prepared to dig in and fight for yourself.
This is assuming that your record is "serious" of course. I‘ve heard other people say that they were able to explain away their convictions without having to go through the ERS process. You should probably already know which it will be.
Anyway, good luck.
Keep at it no matter what and you‘ll get through.