We believe that now is a critical time to call for government action on this issue. We need our government to listen to recommendations from the community groups, policing partners, non-profit and business sectors and legislate standards for police checks in Ontario. Please take a few minutes this week to write Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, Yasir Naqvi (firstname.lastname@example.org) and copy Premier Wynne (email@example.com). We have attached a template of a letter you can readily adapt and send, and outlined below several other steps you can take.
Right now is a key time to request the government take action. Premier Wynne's mandate letters required the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to look at this issue. We know the Ministry is actively considering how to move forward. They need to hear your voices and concern.
What can you do?
1. Write to Minister Naqvi on behalf of your organization, expressing your support for legislating the standard in the current LEARN Guidelines and bringing consistency to policing services across Ontario. You can use our attached template letter to get you started!
2. Write to the Minister Naqvi to explain, based on the experiences of the clients you serve, why this issue is and continues to be important. We know that individuals across the province continue to be excluded from education, employment and volunteer opportunities. Their stories make this issue real - and the government needs to hear about the impacts.
3. If you yourself have been prejudiced by a non-conviction record, please write to the government to share your story. Your voice, and your experience, matters!
Background and progress to date
As many of you know, numerous organizations have been working hard to reform the way police record checks are performed in Ontario. Traditionally in Ontario, a wide variety of non-conviction information (unproven allegations, mental health contacts, police contacts, etc.) has been released on a variety of levels of police checks. People with mental health issues who had contact with police during a crisis are being denied jobs and volunteer placements due to their police records. Students who have had minor contact with the police and criminal justice system are getting kicked out of their programs and are denied opportunities to complete their volunteer hours and student placements. Community safety is important - but regularly releasing these types of records are not helping us keep our vulnerable community members safe. On the contrary, they further disadvantage these vulnerable members and pose significant barriers to social inclusion and participation.
In July 2014, after extensive collaborative dialogue, discussion, consultation and research with community partners, the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) released a revised guideline to police record checks. The new guidelines, which significantly restrict the amount of non-conviction information released on record checks, give individuals who have been stigmatized and prejudiced by these records in the past a new ray of hope. Police contact information, including mental health related apprehensions and contacts, would not be released on any level of check. Instances where a person was charged but the charges were withdrawn, dismissed or stayed would only be released under exceptional circumstances on the vulnerable sector check. In our view, although there are some outstanding issues, the current version of the Guidelines represent a best practice standard in Ontario.
But we have a problem - the guidelines are voluntary. Not every police service has signed on. And some of the largest police services in the province appear reluctant to make any changes to their practices. Many police services have said they will implement the changes - but many is not enough. It is unfair and unjust that a person who is transported to the hospital by police might have that information disclosed on a record check if they live in Toronto, but would be protected from discrimination and stigma if they lived elsewhere in the province.
We also have a solution - legislation. We need the government to take the hard work done by civil society organizations and the OACP, and make it binding on all police services in Ontario. We need one standard across the province, and we need the government to require police services to adopt it. Legislation on this subject is a goal that is shared by community groups, policing partners, the non-profit sector and many, many others.
For more information on police record checks and non-conviction records see www.ccla.org/recordchecks and http://www.johnhoward.on.ca/download-category/policy-publications