Globe and Mail

Panel votes to keep policy on arrest files

By VERNON CLEMENT JONES
Friday, June 28, 2002 – Print Edition, Page A18
The Globe and Mail

The Toronto Police Services Board has voted to retain permanent arrest records -- even for people never charged -- and to make those records available to some employers despite objections from city officials and outraged citizens.

By voting yesterday to accept a report on the city's arrest records program, the board has agreed that its police should keep most arrest records indefinitely, including cases in which charges were thrown out or never result in conviction.

The city councillor who is spearheading the drive against the record-keeping policy said that even more objectionable is the force's willingness to continue sharing those records with employers who are evaluating job applicants.

Councillor Suzan Hall said yesterday it is a losing proposition for the wrongly accused who thought encounters with the police were behind them.

"Perception is nine-tenths of the law," Ms. Hall said. "Arrest information should not be released unless guilt is proven. The current release of arrest records is an infringement of our rights."

Last May, Ms. Hall and fellow Councillor Michael Walker tried unsuccessfully to get the policy changed at the city hall level. However, provincial legislation gives the police board complete control in the matter.

Police Services chairman Norm Gardiner said Toronto's records program has safeguards built in to protect people seeking employment: The arrest record sheet is released to the individual who must then transfer it to the employer, and only the more than 1,500 agencies and associations that primarily work with children and the handicapped are eligible to request such disclosure.

Terry Daly of Toronto's Catholic Children's Aid Society said the agency uses the arrest records to weed out potential abusers of children.

"We are primarily looking for a history of physical and sexual abuse," Ms. Daly said. "But I have to be honest here and say we'd still want to know the particulars of all the incidents. . . ."

Ms. Hall said that at the very least the arrest records should be updated to include non-conviction.

However, noted criminal lawyer Edward Greenspan said no compromise is acceptable because the policy is unconstitutional.

"The disclosure of arrest records of the innocent is the most offensive thing I've ever heard," he said. "I would love to be the lawyer in the case that strikes it down."

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