The president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, Michael Lacy, is calling on the government of Ontario to make good on its promise on changing the way police records checks are done before a provincial election later this year.
Previously, people who came into contact with the police, but who have no conviction (such as those charged and then acquitted, those the subject of a complaint who are never charged, and people who have called police in relation to a mental health incident) could have that information disclosed to third parties through a criminal record check. Various police forces were left to decide what to disclose, which lead to inconsistency and uncertainty.
It was recognized by the current provincial government that a reform was needed regarding the type of information released in public records checks. To that effect, a law to prevent police from disclosing non-conviction records passed the legislature in 2015. This bill promised to be the province’s first-ever clear, consistent, and comprehensive set of standards to govern how police record checks are conducted in Ontario.
Today, more than two years since the unanimous Queen’s Park vote, the Police Records Check Reform Act still has not been proclaimed into law. This means that the Act is not in force and police are still disclosing unproven allegations against legally innocent Ontarians.
This is a significant issue, particularly in Ontario which, according to Statistics Canada, has the highest percentage of withdrawn cases in the country, at 43 per cent. Comparatively, Quebec has a rate of only 9 per cent. Disclosure of non-conviction and non-criminal records in police record checks creates unnecessary barriers to employment, education, and volunteer opportunities.
As a result, the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, which has more than 1,300 members, has written a letter outlining the effects of this unusual delay and urging the government to proclaim the Act into law before the provincial elections this year. The letter emphasizes that people who are disadvantaged or part of racialized communities are disproportionately impacted by the government’s failure to implement this bill. Additionally, the inclusion of records created when an Ontarian facing a mental health crisis calls 911 creates a chilling effect, meaning that people don’t reach out for help due to fear of their records being disclosed.
Dorijan Najdovsk, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services said in a written statement that the legislation remains a priority for the province. According to Najdovsk, the ministry is still developing the appropriate regulations to support the legislation:
“This is an important issue to many across the province — that is why we are committed to getting this right.”
Despite this statement, no timeline has been provided for proclaiming the Act into law.