Reforming Police Record Checks
On December 1, 2015, the Government of Ontario passed Bill 113, the Police Record Checks Reform Act. This was a milestone in a multi-year drive to improve the police record checks system in the province.
Since then, ONN has been urging the Ministry of Community Safety and Correction Services to proceed with accompanying regulations to address processing fees and timelines. The Act will not be proclaimed in effect until regulations are in place. We wrote to Minister Lalonde in February 2017 asking for an update. We will share updates as they become available.
A little background
ONN has been working on the issue of record checks since March 2012, when we asked the Ontario government for improvements in fees and timelines for processing police record checks, as well as greater clarity on when and why checks are needed. We also realized that the issue affected a broad range of nonprofits as employers and stewards of volunteers.
It was clear that inconsistent practices across Ontario about the type and detail of information contained in a police record check were creating uncertainty and challenges for nonprofits. Inappropriate information was sometimes being released in police record checks – particularly non-conviction records such as mental health interventions and criminal charges that had been withdrawn or resulted in an acquittal. Many nonprofits were concerned about how to interpret this information with respect to privacy, human rights, and community safety.
In 2014, ONN wrote about the need for a province-wide solution in “Police Record Checks: We Can Do Better.” Public momentum gathered when a Toronto Star investigative report highlighted the impact on individuals, inspired by reports released by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society of Ontario that spoke to the scale of the issue – potentially affecting millions of Ontarians.
ONN partnered up with the John Howard Society and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, along with the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, to press for changes. In December 2014, ONN and partners met with Minister Naqvi to ask for a province-wide solution based on the OACP’s voluntary Law Enforcement and Records Managers Network (LEARN) Record Check Guideline for police services. The Guideline had been updated in 2014 to remove police interactions, including mental health apprehensions, from all police record checks. The majority of police services were using it – but not all. Faced with such a broad alliance united in support of new legislation based on the LEARN Guideline, the Minister could hardly refuse. He promised to introduce legislation by spring 2015 – and did.
So, what’s in the new legislation?
The Act clarifies the kinds of information that will be released in a police record check. It provides consistent language across the province for the three levels of checks: Criminal Record Checks; Criminal Record and Judicial Matters Checks; and Vulnerable Sector Checks. It also specifies the time limits on the non-conviction information released in Vulnerable Sector Checks under the “Exceptional Disclosure” provision, which also establishes a test for the very narrow circumstances under which this information may be released.
Other provisions in the bill relevant to nonprofits include:
- A requirement that an individual give consent before the information in her/his police record check is released to a third party (e.g., a prospective employer)
- A requirement for police services to establish a standard process for correcting misinformation
- More consistency around police record checks across a number of existing acts, such as those that govern child care and long-term care for the elderly
ONN released a joint statement with our partners supporting the legislation. The Act is a great example of what can be achieved when nonprofits work together and across sectors to bring their voices to government.
In 2017, ONN will continue to press the Ontario government to proclaim and introduce regulations under the Police Record Checks Reform Act, especially to ensure that fees, timelines and other processing barriers are addressed.
Meanwhile, ONN will work with our partners from the nonprofit and government sectors to educate community nonprofits on the appropriate use of police record checks in the context of an overall employee and volunteer screening approach.
Legislation + Central screening + No-cost checks = Helping nonprofits focus on their missions
Ultimately, we’d like to see police record checks legislation complemented by two systems that would further reduce the administrative burden on nonprofits:
- A central screening service that provides clear results (pass/fail/adjudicate/appeal) for vulnerable sector checks (in place in British Columbia) instead of police record information that nonprofits must interpret themselves
- A program that covers the costs of volunteer police record check for eligible nonprofit organizations (as in Alberta)
How can organizations support sector change?
Police record checks are important tools to help nonprofits and protect the vulnerable persons we serve, but they are not the only, or even the main, employee or volunteer screening tool. The over-reliance on police record checks has contributed to rising costs and increased timelines for processing. Organizations must ensure that asking for a police record check is clearly related to a legitimate requirement of the job. If an employee or volunteer will have only casual or occasional contact with vulnerable persons, a check may not be necessary.
Ontario Government: News release on the passage of Bill 113
Volunteer Canada’s The Screening Handbook
“On the Record: Police Record Checks” Workshop series presented by the John Howard Society of Ontario and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (including online video)
Toronto Star, June 3, 2015: Ontario moves to limit police sharing non-conviction information
CBC, June 3, 2015: Ontario police record checks disclosure to be limited
Toronto Star, June 3, 2015: Liberals finally set to curb overuse of police information
Globe and Mail, May 27, 2015: Toronto police stop disclosing psychological information in background checks
Toronto Sun, May 27, 2015: Mental health issues no longer on police background checks for jobs, volunteers
Toronto Star, May 27, 2015: Toronto police background checks no longer include mental health incidents
Toronto Star, Dec. 4, 2014: Province to legislate what police can disclose about innocent Ontarians
ONN was pleased to have the opportunity to appear before the Standing Committee on Justice Policy on Nov. 5, 2015, when Bill 113 was discussed after its second reading in the Legislature. Bill 113 is moving quickly! Our submission highlighted the following issues:
- It is of utmost importance to our sector to get the processing timelines and fees for police record checks regulated, as these currently vary widely across the province. If police services continue to charge volunteers for police record checks, it would be valuable to see a program to cover these costs for eligible nonprofits, as in Alberta.
- We need an awareness/education campaign geared towards nonprofits and other employers regarding the appropriate role of police record checks in a comprehensive approach to screening, so as to reduce the administrative burden created by the over-reliance on police checks.
- It would be valuable to introduce a central screening service that would take the guesswork of interpreting police records (and risk of discrimination) out of the hands of nonprofits—and replace this with a simple “pass/fail/adjudicate/appeal” report like British Columbia has.
- It will be important to make sure the right statistics are collected and released as data-sets on the program, including the volume of police record checks processed and the cost of doing so.
- We support in principle an amendment to Bill 113 that incorporates MPP Sylvia Jones’ (Dufferin-Caledon) Private Member’s Bill 79, the Helping Volunteers Give Back Act, which would allow volunteers to use the results of a police record check across multiple organizations within a specified timeframe without paying additional fees. We understand, however, that this may not work under the (federal) Criminal Records Act for “level 3” checks (Vulnerable Sector Checks) because different information might be selected for disclosure depending on the nature of the volunteer position. But to the extent that such a practice is viable, it should be considered as one way to reduce the cost of police record checks for volunteers.
ONN was pleased that every single one of these issues was raised by MPPs during the Second Reading debate in the Legislature. Clearly nonprofits have been doing great advocacy work on this issue which affects so many of us. And if some of these issues are not addressed in the Bill after the amendment process, we will be advocating for them to be covered in the development of regulations under the Act. Stay tuned!