TORONTO — Mental health records and records from police street checks – known as carding – can no longer be disclosed in police record checks in Ontario.
The Police Record Checks Reform Act, passed unanimously Tuesday by the legislature, brings in standards for what information can be released and bans police from disclosing non-conviction records except in a narrow set of circumstances.
“The law was not clear as to what could be disclosed and what could not be disclosed, so as a result in many instances police were disclosing everything they had within their records,” said Community Safety Minister Yasir Naqvi.
“Now there is absolute clarity as to what the law is and that non-conviction information cannot be disclosed.”
Non-conviction records – such as withdrawn or dismissed charges, acquittals and findings of not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder – can only be disclosed through some vulnerable sector checks for people working or volunteering with children or seniors.
Camille Quenneville, the CEO of the Ontario division of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said her organization supports the law.
“The disclosure of mental health police records has long been discriminatory and has increased the stigma associated with mental health issues,” she said in a statement.
“We are pleased that all parties recognize that this unlawful and discriminatory practice must come to an end.”
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 third type of check, a criminal record and judicial matters check, could also 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.
The law also mandates that police first disclose the results of a record check to the person who is the subject of those records, then that person would have to provide written consent for police to disclose the information to the third party that requested the check.
The Liberal government introduced the act after stories emerged of people being stopped at the U.S. border after records of suicide attempts were disclosed and people being prevented from volunteering because they witnessed a crime.
But this legislation does not cover information sharing between police agencies, so it may not prevent mental health records being used to turn people away at the border.
Meanwhile, the province is considering banning carding, as defined as “random or arbitrary” street checks or stops based solely on race, but draft regulations the government has posted show it wants to allow police to continue “inquiring into suspicious activities for the purpose of detecting illegal activities.”