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New law to impose strict rules on police record checks in Ontario

TORONTO – Police won’t be able to disclose mental health records such as suicide attempts to potential employers or others requesting record checks and will only disclose non-conviction records such as acquittals in limited circumstances under new Ontario legislation.

Civil liberties and mental health advocates have long complained that non-conviction records have been inappropriately disclosed, creating barriers for people’s education, volunteering, employment 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 hardworking 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. And we heard about instances where individuals missed out on educational opportunities and thus missed out on a brighter future because a decades-old charge that was withdrawn was disclosed during a records check.”

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Under the act, non-conviction records such as withdrawn or dismissed charges, acquittals and findings of not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder could only be disclosed through some vulnerable sector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.

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 before deciding whether to release those records in a vulnerable sector check.

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.

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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.

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