The Canadian Civil Liberties Association did all of us a favour this week by shedding some light on a little-known issue that has the potential to impact thousands of unwitting Canadians.
A report entitled Presumption of Guilt? The Disclosure of Non-Conviction Records in Police Background Checks, has revealed that police forces across the country routinely release information to potential employers, volunteer agencies, U.S. officials and travel authorities that should never have seen the light of day.
Said Nathalie Des Rosiers, general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association: “Disclosing this type of sensitive information may undermine the presumption of innocence, which is a cornerstone of a just and fair society, and a right protected by the Charter.
“Employers who receive negative records checks may not fully understand the distinctions between different types of police information, creating a significant risk that non-conviction records will be misconstrued as a clear indication of criminal conduct.”
The problem is that police retain information regarding investigations, withdrawn charges, acquittals or even complaints where charges were never filed in the first place. Since there’s no consistent, national policy governing what can and should be done with the sensitive information, it remains on police databases and can be released at the discretion of individual forces.
“Ultimately, local police forces — and the individual officers who happen to be in charge of record checks — have an enormous amount of discretion over what information gets released and when,” the association says.
The civil liberties group is calling for mechanisms to be established that “place tighter controls on the disclosure of non-conviction information.”
We say the federal government should go a step farther and establish national guidelines for the release and disposal of such information so that all Canadians, no matter where they live or what kind of policing their community has, have the reasonable expectation that important information gathered in their file is destroyed before it can be used against them.
The last thing any of us wants is to be blindsided — whether it’s when we’re applying for a job or trying to cross an international border — by something that we didn’t even know existed.
At a time when police check requirements are becoming more common, it’s up to government to ensure the privacy of Canadians is protected.
We Say editorials represent the viewpoint of The Daily News and are written by publisher Tim Shoults, city editor Tracy Gilchrist, or associate news editors Dan Spark and Mark Rogers.