Ottawa

OPP's gender diversity move could backfire, advocate warns

The OPP's decision to stop publicly releasing the gender of people involved in crimes may have unintended consequences, a women's advocate is warning.

Provincial police no longer revealing gender of suspects, victims

Erin Leigh believes the OPP's decision could 'invisibilize' violence against women and gender-diverse people. (Menaka Raman-Wilms/CBC)

The OPP's decision to stop publicly releasing the gender of people involved in crimes may have unintended consequences, a women's advocate is warning.

The provincial police say the move is meant to respect gender diversity, and will apply to both suspects and victims.

Violence against women and gender-based violence are social issues, they're not private issues. But making that information unavailable invisibilizes that.- Erin Leigh, Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women

But Erin Leigh, the executive director of the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women, said it could have the effect of concealing violence against women and gender-diverse people.

"If you don't mention the gender of the victim or the person perpetrating the crime, you don't actually know what's going on," Leigh told Ottawa Morning host Robyn Bresnahan on Tuesday.

"Violence against women and gender-based violence are social issues, they're not private issues. But making that information unavailable invisibilizes that." 

The Ontario Provincial Police will no longer use "he" or "she" when they disclose arrests to the public. Instead, they've decided to stay gender-neutral. 5:18

Can lead to assumptions

Leigh said withholding gender isn't such an issue for crimes like impaired driving. The problem arises when it comes to crimes involving violence, she said.

The OPP said they will still reveal the name, age and hometown of people involved in crimes.

But Leigh pointed out names don't always align with gender identity, which can lead to assumptions about gender. That's "not in the spirit of actually addressing gender-diverse people, and being more inclusive," she said.

The change in policy was spurred by a review of the Police Services Act, the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Ontario Human Rights Code, according to the OPP. 

The OPP said they will continue to collect data on gender for their own statistics. 

As recently as Monday, some OPP detachments in eastern Ontario were continuing to identify suspects' gender in news releases.

Municipal police services including those in Ottawa, Toronto and London continue to identify the gender of both suspects and victims of crime.