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OPP no longer releasing gender of victims or the accused connected with crimes

Spokesperson Sgt. Carolle Dionne said it's not really a change in their code as much as it was an "oversight" in the OPP's media release policy.
Spokesperson Sgt. Carolle Dionne said it's not really a change in their code as much as it was an "oversight" in the OPP's media release policy. Nick Westoll / File / Global News

Ontario’s Provincial Police (OPP) is no longer revealing the gender of people accused of crimes or those that are victims of one.

A spokesperson for the OPP told Global News the action was taken in May 2019 after a review of policies revealed the information was not required for public police releases.

Spokesperson Sgt. Carolle Dionne said it’s not really a change in their code as much as it was an “oversight” in the OPP’s media release policy.

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“Upon reviewing our operating procedures, it talked about an accused or charged person as a name, residence, their age, charges and a little bit about the incident itself but it never speaks about gender being released,” said Dionne. “So we made that change.”

Dionne says the move came during a regular review of the Police Services Act, the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, as well as the Ontario Human Rights Code.

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During that review, OPP officials decided to exclude gender details, believing it would have little impact on a case, said Dionne.

“With all of those variables coming in, why should we release the gender if it’s not pertinent to the incident? Right. Does it really matter?” said Dionne.

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Dionne went on to say the agency decided to “go a bit further,” citing basic human rights laws in the province which frown on discrimination by gender identity or gender expression.

An example would be when you’re applying for a job now, it’s optional to release if you’re female or male,” Dionne said.

“All of that put together, we’re now being gender-neutral by saying the individual or the accused and not using gender-specific pronouns.”

However, Dionne said there will be exceptions to the rule in some instances particularly if officers need to use witness accounts during a search for a suspect.

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“If I’m looking for somebody, a suspect, and I have descriptors from witnesses that believe they saw a male conduct an armed robbery and he was armed and dangerous or may have had a firearm, then that person would be identified as a male.”

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When asked about whether the gender policy would change how year-end crime numbers are reported by the OPP, Dionne said that data would continue to be tabulated as it appears on government-related identification.

“When charging somebody that identifies as a female and let’s say their driver’s licenses say male, then it’s going to be compiled as a male.”

Meanwhile, one of the province’s biggest policing agencies told Global News they will continue to “use all information available” when releasing details about those charged or accused of crimes.

“We will use all personal information available at the time, while also respecting how people identify themselves,” Toronto police spokesperson Connie Osbourne said

Osbourne went on to say the force does “regularly review processes to establish best practices” for releasing suspect and victim information.

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Global News Legal Analyst and Criminal Defence lawyer Joseph Neuberger believes the omission of gender from police reporting could be leaving out “a relevant factor” in policy development and the “understanding of offending behaviour.”

“This seems short-sighted to me and accurate recording of gender, age and race should be a robust policy for police.”

Ontario’s Privacy Commissioner Brian Beamish says police services are “not prohibited” from disclosing gender according to the province’s privacy laws.

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“Ontario’s access and privacy laws do not prohibit disclosing the gender of an individual,” said Beamish, “This is a decision that is within the discretion of individual police services.”

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