In today's computerized world virtually all interactions with the police are noted and placed in their computerized record system (CPIC). This wide range of information includes interactions with the police when your name is mentioned, mental health related interactions where the police were called, 911 calls where you may have been present, investigations where you may have been a witness, a victim or a suspect even if no charges were laid, and the fact that you may have been charged with a criminal offense but that charge was withdrawn, stayed or that you were acquitted. These are just a few types of non-conviction records that are kept.
This information is now being routinely released when a police information check or vulnerable sector records check is performed. Further this information is available to border officials who are using this non-conviction related information to deny entry into the United States. This information is also being used to deny people employment, volunteer positions or travel permits all because a person has come in contact with the police in the past creating a record of same which may be false, or highly prejudicial especially when there were no charges laid or the charges were dismissed or withdrawn.
In September of 2012, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) released a report called “presumption of guilt” outlining the difficulties the non-conviction records are causing innocent people and the problems people are having trying to purge this information from the police system. At present there are no clear-cut rules governing what information the police are allowed to retain or what can be done to purge erroneous information on their system. If you are unhappy with information about you that’s being released, you can deal with the local police force directly and request that information be purged, however if the force refuses to do so you may be forced to follow the expensive route of applying to court for a judicial review of that decision.
The CCLA is now actively advocating for significant changes in the way that police, employers, volunteer agents, etc. deal with this type of information. Clearly it is an issue that directly prejudices the presumption of innocence, individual privacy, dignity and equality. George Orwell's novel 1984 is becoming an increasingly a reality as the state's ability to acquire and access information grows, it is time both are provincial and federal governments brought in clear legislation to protect the presumption of innocence in this increasingly complex computerized world.
Shawn Swarts is a lawyer at the law firm of Cobb & Jones LLP. Should you have any questions for Ask A Lawyer, please direct them to the Simcoe Reformer or ask a lawyer of your choice. For more articles, visit the Library page at www.cobbjones.ca.