Edmonton police rapped over outstanding warrant project

A controversial Edmonton police program urging people with outstanding warrants to turn themselves in failed to make reasonable arrangements to protect personal information, Alberta's Privacy Commissioner ruled.

Privacy Commissioner says police released more personal data than necessary

Alberta privacy commissioner Jill Clayton says Edmonton police released too much personal information in an effort to get citizens with outstanding warrants to turn themselves in. (CBC)

A controversial Edmonton police program that pressed people with outstanding warrants to turn themselves in failed to make reasonable arrangements to protect personal information, Alberta's Privacy Commissioner has ruled.

Jill Clayton found that Project Operation Warrant Execution, an initiative aimed at reducing the large volume of outstanding warrants in Edmonton, contravened the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The project featured a public campaign encouraging individuals to come forward and address their warrants or risk having their names and faces advertised publicly.

Names, photographs, and other personal information of individuals appeared in newspapers and on the police website.

Clayton initiated the investigation on her own to ensure compliance with the FOIP Act and to ensure that consideration was given to the protection of personal information.

She found police did not make reasonable security arrangements to protect personal information as required under FOIP and while police had the authority to disclose some of the personal information, it released more than what was necessary to carry out its purposes.

The commissioner recommends from now on that police consult her office before initiating any future "roundup" campaigns.

In a statement released late Monday afternoon, Police Chief Rod Knecht acknowledged that "some errors were made" and said that EPS will set up a policy requiring privacy impact assessments for projects requiring the use of personal information. 

However, Knecht says that EPS plans to have more of these warrant campaigns in the future. 

"Given the risk posed by some of these offenders, the enormity of the task we were facing and the challenges of locating individuals who, by definition, have found themselves outside of the immediate grasp of the justice system, the EPS very much needed, and continues to need the assistance of the public to fulfill its statutory duty of executing warrants."

The project is also at the centre of a $40,000 civil lawsuit launched against police by a 16-year-old girl whose identity was revealed on posters in violation contrary to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.