Privacy commissioner asks justice minister to review procedures for police checks

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EDMONTON — A six-year-old case in which police accessed and shared private information with a person’s employer, and his job was later terminated, has prompted the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner to call on the justice minister for a fairer system for police checks.

Commissioner Jill Clayton asked Justice Minister and General Solicitor Doug Schweitzer to address what has been called a “legislative void” surrounding police information checks and vulnerable sector checks on Oct. 21.  

Police information checks can provide employers and volunteer organizations with “much more comprehensive” information than a criminal records check, says the Edmonton Police Service, such as statute convictions, court and prohibition orders, and out-of-province warrants.  

A vulnerable sector check also includes a review of police records to “determine the existence of a pattern of behavior that may result in harm to vulnerable persons.” It is EPS policy to not disclose mental health-related incidents unless they involved violence or threat of violence.  

Clayton’s letter to Schweitzer, released publicly on Friday, says a 2013 case illustrates “there are many unresolved issues with PICs and VSCs.”

In it, Clayton calls current laws unfair, inconsistent, and part of a system that is susceptible to over disclosure by police and over collection by employers.

The office of the commissioner was contacted about the 2013 case in November of that year after the man had lost his job of 11 years.

An adjudicator concluded EPS violated the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act by not getting the man’s fully informed consent to create checks for his employer, and that the staff sergeant who shared his data had not been authorized to do so.

The information related to allegations of sexual result that had occurred in the 90s and early 2000s, and police investigations he had been involved in as a youth. The man did not have a criminal record.  

Clayton is urging the ministry to enact legislation that is similar to Ontario’s. She cited examples from B.C. and Manitoba as well, writing she believes an issue exists across jurisdictions.

A department spokesperson said it had just received Clayton’s letter, but that it would be studying the issue further and reviewing “if any further steps are necessary.”  

It added the 2013 incident occurred before several policy changes.

According to the department, the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police updated its procedures in 2018, and again earlier this year following consultation with the Alberta Law Reform Institute. The privacy commissioner had done a review of the procedures in 2018.

When Ontario’s laws were updated in 2015, police became unable to disclose mental health information and could then only release non-conviction records in certain circumstances.

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