The president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association 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.
Michael Lacy, CLA president and a partner at Brauti Thorning Zibarras LLP, says it was recognized by the current provincial government that reform was needed around the type of information released in police records checks.
Record checks can be necessary for employment or volunteer work, and in 2015, the province passed the Police Record Checks Reform Act.
It was touted as the “first-ever clear, consistent and comprehensive set of standards to govern how police record checks are conducted in Ontario,” by setting out three separate types of checks (vulnerable sector checks, criminal record checks, or criminal record and judicial matters checks) and limiting the information that could be released.
However, Lacy says it has yet to be proclaimed.
“This legislation is about promoting fairness,” he says, noting that the legislation creates a standard way in which police forces across Ontario conduct checks.
Under the prior framework, Lacy says in the process of obtaining a records check, people who came into contact with the police — like those charged with a criminal offence and then acquitted, or subject to a criminal complaint but never charged — could have that information disclosed to others through a check, even though they were not convicted of an offence.
It could also affect people who have entered into a peace bond, he says.
“People come into contact with police in all kinds of contexts,” he says. “[This] ensures they’re not being discriminated against.”
A letter from the Criminal Lawyers’ Association — which has more than 1,300 members — says that people who are disadvantaged or part of racialized communities are impacted more adversely by the bill.
“Each day that goes by without the legislation being proclaimed, people of this province are being prejudiced and the unfairness that the legislation aims to correct perpetuates,” said the letter.
A spokesman for the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services says proclaiming the bill remains a priority for the province. However, no date or timeline was provided, and an election must be held by June 2018.
“We are currently developing the appropriate regulations to support the legislation and will post them on Ontario’s Regulatory Registry upon completion to allow the public to offer their feedback,” said the spokesman.
“This is an important issue to many across the province — that is why we are committed to getting this right.
Anthony Morgan, an associate at Falconers LLP, said a lack of action on the issue continues to impact marginalized communities.
“Racialized Ontarians, as well as Ontarians who have experienced mental distress are disproportionately impacted by the government’s failure to implement this bill,” he said, in an email comment.
“It’s unclear why this matter of systemic discrimination hasn’t been addressed through the implementation of this legislation. This is especially disappointing considering that the Act was informed by months of community consultations with stakeholders who, in many cases, have lost job, education, volunteer and/or travel opportunities due to the disclosure of a non-conviction record.”