Editorial: Keep promise to take action on records

With news in 2012 that alleged Eaton Centre shooter Christopher Husbands had been working with children for the City of Toronto despite having a criminal record, it’s not surprising authorities have erred on the side of caution when it comes to vulnerable sector checks.

Of course, the other side of that issue has emerged recently with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association releasing a report decrying the excessive tendency to release non-conviction information, such as police interactions in mental-health cases and withdrawn charges, in vulnerable sector checks. While Husbands’ case actually involved a conviction, the response from the city was to tighten up the process that left it to new employees to turn over their reference checks and gave them up to three months to do so even as they began their jobs. The move, which was certainly understandable, follows a trend noted by the CCLA of increasing reliance by employers on criminal background checks that too often lead to the release of both conviction and non-conviction records.

It’s an issue that pits safety against privacy and human rights. But with recent attention to the issue, Ontario’s three main political parties have been promising to take action. There’s good reason to remain skeptical given the likelihood Ontario’s re-elected Liberal government will err on the side of caution, but it’s good to see a fair prospect of action on the matter. Certainly, the CCLA has provided a possible way forward by looking at the B.C. model that provides for a centralized process for conducting vulnerable sector checks and assessments. It helps
determine whether someone poses certain risks to children or the elderly and is a model that at least offers consistency in deciding what to disclose rather than the haphazard situation we have now in Ontario where disclosure varies by police force.

Police quite reasonably note that they need access to information on issues such as a previous suicide attempt as it helps to determine their response when dealing with future calls. But keeping track of that information doesn’t necessarily mean putting it into multiple databases or disclosing it in vulnerable sector checks. That’s why we need clear guidelines across the various authorities and agencies to set out what information they can collect and how and when they can — and can’t — disclose it. The Liberal government needs to follow up on promises to take action on this issue.

For more, see "CCLA calls for new law on non-conviction records."
Glenn Kauth

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