Police in Ontario won't be able to disclose mental health information and will only release non-conviction records in limited circumstances to potential employers and others in background checks under legislation introduced Wednesday.
Civil liberties and mental health advocates have long complained that the release of non-conviction records, such as acquittals, is inappropriate and creates barriers for people's education, employment, volunteering and other opportunities.
There are currently no province-wide standards on what type of information can be disclosed, but the Liberal government intends to create those standards with the Police Record Checks Reform Act.
"We heard from hard-working Ontarians who lost their job or were unable to find employment because of past incidents involving mental health contact with police," Community Safety Minister Yasir Naqvi said Wednesday.
"We heard about folks being stopped from volunteering in their community because they witnessed a crime or were questioned by police for a case simply because they were a relative."
The Christian Labour Association of Canada welcomed the government's move.
"The threat of the release of unrelated non-conviction information has discouraged and in some cases prevented our members from pursing new employment or volunteer opportunities," Hank Beekhuis, CLAC's Provincial Director, said in a statement. "The rigour and consistency that will be put in place will give our members great assurance around what information will be contained in the report."
Under the act, non-conviction records such as withdrawn or dismissed charges, acquittals and findings of not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder could only be disclosed through some vulnerable sector checks for people working or volunteering with children and seniors.
Before releasing information in a vulnerable record check, police will have to consider factors such as how long ago an incident took place, if the record relates to predatory behaviour around a vulnerable person, and whether the records show a pattern of such behaviour.
Carding information will not be disclosed
In a standard criminal record check, only criminal convictions and findings of guilt under the Youth Criminal Justice Act can be disclosed. A criminal record and judicial matters check could disclose conditional discharges for up to three years, absolute discharges for up to one year, outstanding warrants and certain court orders such as family court restraining orders.
Police interactions known as carding and mental health interactions such as suicide attempts could not be disclosed under this legislation.
There are legislated guidelines about the circumstances in which a vulnerable sector check can be requested, but NDP deputy leader Jagmeet Singh said there is a "grey area" around the criminal record and judicial matters check and when that can be requested as opposed to a straight criminal record check.
"[It] involves more information that actually could negatively impact a person's employability," he said.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, mental health advocates, the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police and the John Howard Society were all on hand to applaud the legislation, which many of them have been urging for for years.
Under the legislation, records will only be released to a third party after a person's consent. If they believe non-conviction information is unjustly included, there will be a reconsideration process.
Ontario's privacy commissioner has slammed the practice of police sharing information such as suicide attempts with border services, which has led to Canadians being turned away at the border, but this legislation does not cover sharing of information across law enforcement agencies.
On Wednesday, more than 30 prominent current and former politicians, civil servants and community leaders gathered at Toronto's city hall to demand an end to carding.
The group, which has dubbed itself Concerned Citizens to End Carding, includes three former mayors of Toronto, city Coun. Michael Thompson, former Ontario chief justice and attorney general Roy McMurtry, former provincial MPP Mary Anne Chambers, former city coun. Gordon Cressy and a host of high-profile social justice advocates from the city.