Police record checks under scrutiny in Ontario
Many say non-conviction information should be eliminated from police records altogether
The disclosure of non-conviction information on police record checks costs many people educational and job opportunities in this province, but steps are being taken to ensure innocence is presumed until somone is proven guilty.
This is the contention of both the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police.
Police services across the province are now evaluating what they disclose on record checks. They're debating whether they should end the practice of noting how many times a person has had contact with police.
The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police recently revised its voluntary record check guidelines to limit the practice.
Brian Beamish, the acting information and privacy commissioner for Ontario, called the recommendation a step in the right direction.
But Beamish said he'd like the reporting of non-conviction information eliminated from police records altogether.
“I think it points to the need to have some kind of provincial standard,” he said.
“So that this is no longer a voluntary process for police services that they have a standard that they have to guide their actions by. It needs the force of law.”
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is currently in talks with the provincial government to create that legislation.
Association spokesperson Abby Deshman said she wants to see all police services adopt the guidelines.
"I wouldn't be surprised if, to actually get uniformity across the province, we ultimately need legislation or strong provincial direction."
'Whittling away' presumption of innocence
For anyone who has had contact with police, chances are good that the interaction could show up on one’s record, even if that person wasn’t convicted.
In one instance, a Sudbury woman was fired from her part-time job after her employer noticed a shoplifting charge on her record, said John Rimore, who is with the John Howard Society.
The charge against her was withdrawn, but her record wasn't updated to reflect that.
"I think that's criminal in itself,” Rimore said.
"The presumption of innocence, which is the trademark of a democracy, and the trademark of our legal system in Canada, is being whittled away.”
John Howard Societies across Ontario are encouraging local police services to adopt the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police guidelines, Rimore said.
"People, 10-15 years from now that might have even forgotten that they had been charged for shoplifting [and] that charge was withdrawn. They find out when they want to cross the border, or when they're looking for a job.”
Beamish noted he has heard from many people who believe a great injustice has been done by releasing this “information that may have a very innocent explanation [and] is used to deny them an opportunity.”
He added he would welcome legislation to limit the disclosure of non-conviction information to exceptional circumstances, with some kind of public safety criteria built into it.
While he hasn't heard from the association about non-conviction information yet, Beamish said he'd be interested in talking with them about creating legislation to end the disclosure of non-conviction information across the province.
"Certainly if there is a desire or an appetite to work towards legislation, we'd be more than happy to be involved in that process."
Deshman said it’s unfortunate that, “people who are successful in trying to get this information removed from their record find that they've already missed out on the job. They've already missed out on their placement. They have to drop out from that year of school and try and do it again next year."
The association is “flooded” with calls from people who had information like this released and lost jobs, employment, education opportunities, she said.
'Looking for guidance'
Sudbury police say they are taking steps to protect people from what could be harmful record checks.
But the newly appointed Chief Paul Pederson said he still wants some guidance on this.
The service will now hold back information from record checks that hasn't led to a conviction, but non-conviction records can still be released in exceptional circumstances.
"We need to have some legislation that helps us understand what are those exceptional circumstances," Pederson said.
"As it stands right now, we're not clear completely on when or if we're ever going to be able to give that information out."