It’s time to address a problem in the Canadian justice system. The current situation with non-conviction records is simply wrong and illogical. It needs to change.
This blog will explore why the current use and availability of non-conviction records disproportionately affects Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) and people with mental illnesses.
What are non-conviction records?
Whenever a person is arrested in Canada, the police collect a wide range of personal information. They retain this information even if they person is later released without charge. This means police can easily access a vast amount of personal data about someone, even if they were wrongfully arrested.
This includes information about investigations that did not result in criminal charges or if charges were eventually stayed or withdrawn. Even simply making a 911 call or being at the scene of an incident can result in the logging of your personal information. Remember, these are not criminal convictions. Why, then, should this information appear in a police background check?
Effect on BIPOC and other communities
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the communities most affected by the overuse and misuse of non-conviction records belong to ethnic minorities or those with mental illnesses. For instance, a 2017 analysis of 10,000 arrests in Toronto by the John Howard Society showed that Blacks were 50% more likely to be taken to a police station for processing after an arrest than whites. Not only that but they are also 100% more likely to be held overnight, even taking into account criminal history and age. Police also log a person’s personal information when they respond to mental health incidents, drug overdoses, suicide attempts, and more.
Black, Indigenous and racialized Canadians suffer the most from the current use of non-conviction records. Not only in terms of criminal justice but also in terms of economic barriers. Lots of jobs require criminal record checks as do things like housing benefit applications, immigration, volunteering and education. Unfortunately we have a situation where people are having to live with the consequences of something they didn’t even do for the rest of their life.
Outdated non-conviction records
Another major problem with the current situation is that police can often rely on outdated information. There is no mechanism to remove or correct outdated or inaccurate data. The idea that people could have their lives ruined because of false information and have no recourse to do anything about it is insane.
What is the solution?
Fortunately, this situation can be fixed. Right now, the Canadian Bar Association is stepping up and lobbying for new, uniform legislation across Canada to limit the disclosure of non-conviction records. The CBA supports measures such as Ontario’s Police Record Checks Reform Act from 2015 which places limits on the disclosure of non-conviction information.
The CBA also urges governments to provide a mechanism to review and correct errors in non-conviction databases. I would argue that’s the very least we can do.