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Backgrounder: Mental health discrimination & police record checks

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According to Health Canada, approximately 20% of Canadians will experience mental illness at some point in their lives[1]. Unfortunately, there is still significant stigma and stereotype about mental illness, and a lack of understanding of rights relating to mental illness as a disability.

For some, mental illness may result in non-criminal contact with the police, who retain a record of the contact, and may hold this information for a number of years, or indefinitely. Although these individuals, their families or others may have contacted the police for emergency assistance, the information may subsequently be disclosed through police records checks. This can create significant barriers when the person applies for employment, voluntary positions, educational programs, or even housing.

The Commission has received inquiries from community organizations and government agencies about this issue, and has addressed and continues to receive related complaints. In addition, individuals identified by other Code grounds, such as racialized and Aboriginal people, may also be disproportionately impacted, as these communities are more likely to have had contact with police due to a number of factors, including systemic racism.

Some organizations may legitimately request police background checks, such as when hiring employees or volunteers to work with vulnerable people. However, in many other cases, while the organization may prefer to have the information as a screening tool, it may not actually be a reasonable and “bone fide” requirement.

It is important for organizations to understand that records checks may have a discriminatory impact. If a records check is not a legitimate requirement, or if appropriate steps are not taken regarding the information requested, released, or received, there may be grounds for a human rights complaint.

The Commission has decided to develop a policy to address the ongoing concerns about requirements, practices, and procedures relating to police records checks. The final policy will set out the responsibilities of organizations requesting the checks, and of police services in assessment and disclosure of non-criminal information held in their records.

The Commission is releasing a Draft Policy on Mental Health Discrimination and Police Records Checks for the purposes of public consultation. Individuals and organizations may provide written comment and submissions until Friday, March 24, 2008.

[1] Health Canada, A Report on Mental Illness in Canada (Ottawa: 2002), online: Canadian Mental Health Association Website < > (date last accessed: 24 October 2006).