We got word this week that the provincial government has finally released the new province-wide policy on the kind of information that can be disclosed by the police on employment- and volunteer-related record checks. These guidelines include some very good news: after years of expressing concern about the disclosure of non-conviction information on these checks, and eight months of pushing for action following the Privacy Commissioner’s report on the practice, we’re thrilled that we can finally report some positive changes. Our excitement is tempered, however, by concerns about the portions of these new policy guidelines that look suspiciously similar to the status quo.
The most significant change is an end to the disclosure of mental health information on police information checks for both the non-vulnerable and vulnerable sectors. We have long considered the disclosure of mental health information to be one of the most damaging elements of these checks, so this is an important victory. We’re thrilled to see a change that will make a real difference in the lives of people who have been involved in mental health situations attended by the police, protecting their right to keep sensitive medical information private and remain free from discrimination on the basis of their mental health status.
Another significant and exciting change is that for non-vulnerable sector checks, the police will no longer be disclosing “adverse police contact.” Going forward, they will be disclosing only warrants, outstanding charges and convictions – information subject to some sort of oversight, be it from a Crown prosecutor or a judge. We believe that this strikes an appropriate balance between an individual’s privacy and the kind of information that, in some cases, may be legitimately relevant to an employer.
Finally, neither vulnerable nor non-vulnerable sector checks will include youth offences unless specifically provided for under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
So that’s the good news. The bad news is that, for vulnerable sector checks, the police will continue to disclose not only warrants, outstanding charges and convictions, but also “adverse contact,” the same grab bag of untested allegations that we’ve always objected to. The guidelines define adverse contact as “incidents where an individual has been a suspect in an offence (whether or not charged),” a definition that continues to capture completely unsubstantiated allegations. Individuals who are the subject of accusations so unsupported that the police never even deem them worthy of investigation may continue to be treated with prejudice when seeking employment or volunteer opportunities. While eliminating the disclosure of mental health information is an important step in the right direction, we need to go one step further and limit the disclosure of “adverse contact” in vulnerable as well as non-vulnerable sector checks. Anything less remains a violation of the presumption of innocence and an unwarranted invasion of an individual’s right to privacy.
In addition, these guidelines are policy, not law. We have always insisted that this issue must be addressed with legislation to ensure that substantive enforcement options are available. Ontario has recently indicated their intent to legislate on the issue, and we believe BC should do the same.
We are pleased to see that all municipal police departments and RCMP detachments in BC have endorsed the new guidelines, and we are hopeful that this will lead to real change in the kind of information disclosed on police information checks. We are well aware, however, that there is often a gap – and sometimes a gulf – between what a policy indicates is supposed to happen and what actually happens in practice. We are sure to be hearing from the public if the promise of the new guidelines is not being fulfilled. And we will continue to advocate for meaningful redress mechanisms and additional limits on the disclosure of adverse contact on vulnerable sector checks. We will be working to build on these policy changes, keeping the momentum going in the right direction.
Help us assess how these new guidelines are working!
The BCCLA will be actively attempting to determine whether the new police information check guidelines are effecting real change on the ground. Please send us your stories, good and bad! Have the new guidelines helped you get a police information check free of mental health information? Are you still struggling with “adverse contact” being disclosed on a vulnerable sector check? Does your local police department seem to be adhering to the guidelines? Tell us about your experiences by emailing [email protected]. We would appreciate it if you could send us your stories and submissions in writing rather than sharing them over the phone.