Police Record Checks
Nonprofits sometimes use police record checks (PRCs) as part of the process for screening for employment or volunteering. The Police Record Checks Reform Act, 2015, limits and standardizes information authorized to be disclosed in a record check and requires that individuals receive copies of their record check before disclosure to a third party, such as an employer (except where the record is clear and the individual has consented in advance to a level 1 or 2 check).
The Act authorizes police services to conduct three levels of police record checks:
- Criminal record check includes applicable criminal convictions and findings of guilt under the federal Youth Criminal Justice Act.
- Criminal record and judicial matters check includes applicable criminal convictions, findings of guilt under the federal Youth Criminal Justice Act, absolute and conditional discharges, outstanding charges, arrest warrants, and certain judicial orders.
- Vulnerable sector check includes the same type of information that is disclosed in a criminal record and judicial matters check as well as applicable findings of not criminally responsible due to mental disorder, record suspensions (pardons) related to sexually-based offences, and in certain circumstances, non-conviction charge related information; when a strict test is met.
Employers and volunteer stewards (outside government) are no longer authorized to receive results from youth records, except in the case of vulnerable sector checks (level 3). The Act took effect on November 1, 2018. There are some exemptions to the Act, including for residential/foster care providers, child care providers, and roles in the justice system.
While ONN is pleased to have a legal framework around PRCs, there remain some outstanding concerns that should be addressed through regulations. Some police services charge fees for volunteer checks while others do not and some services take many weeks to process requests. Furthermore, as employers and stewards of volunteers, nonprofits currently have to interpret sensitive information in police record checks, instead of receiving a straightforward “pass/fail” report for candidates.
ONN’s vision: timely and affordable access to appropriate information, to support employers and stewards of volunteers in risk management
We want nonprofit organizations in Ontario to have timely and affordable access to appropriate information from police record checks that helps them manage risks to their employees, volunteers and clients, particularly those from vulnerable groups.
Steps we’re taking to reach that vision
We’re advocating for the Ontario Government to:
- Implement Ontario-wide regulations that control the cost and administrative burden of police record checks and harmonize the process across jurisdictions
- Launch a centralized screening service that provides clear results (pass/fail/adjudicate/appeal) for for police record checks (as in British Columbia) so nonprofits don’t have to interpret sensitive information on prospective employees and volunteers
- Launch a program that covers the costs of police record checks for volunteers at eligible nonprofit organizations if the fees are not waived (as in Alberta)
We’re working with the Ontario nonprofit sector to use police record checks appropriately in the context of an overall employee and volunteer screening approach.
Canadian Civil Liberties Association “Ontario leads the way on police record checks reform” and “What you need to know about the new Police Record Checks Reform Act”
John Howard Society of Ontario “Police Record Hub” including their sample “Record Check Policy”
Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services “Police Record Checks in Ontario”
Volunteer Canada “Screening Guide”
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.
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.
In June 2015, the government released Bill 113, the Police Record Checks Reform Act. We commented on the draft. The government passed the bill on December 1, 2015. 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. 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. ONN urged the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to proceed with accompanying regulations to address processing fees and timelines.
In April 2018, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services consulted on two regulatory proposals that would enable the Ontario Government to proclaim the Police Record Checks Reform Act (2015). The regulations would elaborate on the exemptions permitted to the new rules and govern various operational considerations such as how appeals can be made. ONN submitted a response that was generally supportive of the regulatory proposals but pointed out the need to address fees and timelines for processing police record checks, including for volunteers. In May 2018, the Act was proclaimed with a coming-into-force date of November 1, 2018.
On October 26, 2018, the Ontario Government confirmed the Act would come into force on November 1, but modified Regulation 347/18 to include an exemption for record checks that are completed using a process where an individual self-declares their criminal convictions. In these circumstances, police do not release details of the records but rather whether the records match the self-declaration, and whether there is a “clear” or “not clear” result for judicial matters. In these instances, police record check providers are not required to seek an individual’s additional consent to disclose the results of a police record check. This exemption does not apply to vulnerable sector checks.