Long-awaited standards set for Ontario police record checks

Ontario has become the first province in Canada to set clear standards for issuing police record checks across its regions.

Ontario is the first to create clear protocols for record-checking across the province

Ontario has become the first province in Canada to set a single consistent standard for police services when it comes to record checks. (Robert Short/CBC)

Ontario has become the first province in Canada to set clear standards for issuing police record checks across its regions.

The Police Record Checks Reform Act, first introduced in 2015, came into effect on Nov. 01, 2018. The new legislation strives to streamline the process and provide consistency from Ontario's police services.

Paul Cormier chairs the Law Enforcement and Records Managers Network (LEARN) committee for the Ontario Association Chiefs of Police. He also has more than a decade of experience as Records Manager at the Waterloo Regional Police Service. Cormier said he and his colleagues started noticing vast inconsistencies in what police disclosed in 2008.

He said some jurisdictions would release certain information while others would choose to withhold the same details, which made it particularly confusing for those receiving record checks, such as provincial organizations.

"Imagine if you're an Ontario-wide organization like Boy Scouts or Big Sisters. They'd get record checks on different forms called different things with different information released," he said.

Changes follow 'good principles of democracy'

Paul Cormier, OACP LEARN Chair, said he's proud to finally see guidelines for Ontario police record checks come to fruition. (Submitted)

Cormier said the changes to the law better protects an individual's privacy and rights when it comes to records checks. 

"Back in 2003, we thought we had to release all of that information because police had access to it all," said Cormier.

"How could we not release this information if we knew about something that might protect youth or vulnerable populations?"

Details like mental health apprehensions, non-conviction information or investigations were all disclosed in past police checks.

Cormier said the legislation has been widely supported because it respects Canadian Charter rights and follows "good principles of democracy."

Today, the protocols adopt three strict types of record checks outlined by OACP guidelines from 2014, to which police must adhere.

It means record checks will only include non-conviction information for "very specific purposes" and for the protection of vulnerable populations such as youth.

Additionally, youth records will only be disclosed to the individual or to the federal, provincial or municipal governments for employment or service reasons.

"Basically, it clarifies what people are allowed to ask for," Cormier said.

Record check just a snapshot, not whole picture

Last year, Ontario police processed around 750,000 record checks. Cormier said he recalls when his Waterloo region would process fewer than 15,000 requests a year in the early 2000s.This year, his jurisdiction is looking at completing more than 45,000 checks.

He's hoping more people will learn to stop over-relying on record checks.

"At no point in time have record checks been the best way of ensuring safety for people in an organization that these agencies are responsible for," he said, and he continues to warn agencies that they can't solely rely on a record check to represent an individual's background.

"We only provide a snapshot," he said. "You don't find out all of the information about somebody from a record check. Just because it's clear, doesn't mean they're safe; just because it's not clear, doesn't mean they can't work for you. Each individual check has to be looked at independently."

To have a more comprehensive screening  process for determining an individual's risk, Cormier urges organizations to turn to Volunteer Canada's 10-step process and the Canadian Centre for Child Protections programs.

"People make mistakes. Life goes on. We need people to move forward."