June 4, 2009
Hon. Christopher Bentley
Attorney General of Ontario
11th Flr, McMurtry-Scott Bldg
720 Bay St
Toronto ON M5G 2K1
Dear Attorney General:
The Ontario Human Rights Commission was concerned to learn this past week about broad police record checks being conducted on some jury pools. While this matter raises important issues around disclosure, impartiality, judicial fairness, privacy, and informed consent, there are also human rights implications for individuals with mental health disabilities under Ontario’s Human Rights Code.
The Commission recognizes that criminal record checks are appropriate for screening out potential jurors ineligible to serve because of prior conviction for an indictable offence. Police record checks, however, are often broader and can reveal personal information about an individual’s mental health and non-criminal contact with police that might have involved, for example, transfers to a medical facility, or being a victim or witness.
As you are aware, this past year, the Commission issued a Draft Policy on Mental Health Discrimination and Police Record Checks for public consultation and received input from stakeholders across Ontario including police services and their boards, the mental health sector, providers of services for vulnerable persons, volunteer sector organizations, government agencies and others. Many voiced strong concern over disclosing information on mental health contacts with police because of pervasive social stigma towards people with mental health conditions and the potential negative impact, particularly in employment, housing and services.
The Commission was pleased to hear that the Ministry of the Attorney General has just issued a directive to Crown Attorney offices across the province to ensure only criminal record checks are conducted on potential jurors and that no other information from police databases, such as mental health related contacts, is requested, considered or disclosed as part of the jury selection process. The Commission would be interested to learn more about what measures your Ministry may have taken, or may be undertaking, to ensure persons with disabilities, including individuals with mental health conditions, are not adversely affected from accessing or participating in the province’s court system, in accordance with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005, and the Ontario Human Rights Code.
I look forward to your reply. In the meantime, the Commission is always available to offer any assistance it can. You may also visit our website www.ohrc.on.ca for more information about related initiatives including the Commission’s involvement with Toronto Police Services and Volunteer Toronto’s sessions for vulnerable sector agencies following a recent settlement with the Toronto Police Services Board addressing mental health and police record checks.
ORIGINAL SIGNED BY
Barbara Hall, B.A, LL.B, Ph.D (hon.)
Jamie K. Trimble, President, Ontario Bar Association
Julian Fantino, Commissioner, Ontario Provincial Police
Chief Dan Parkinson, President, Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police
Hon. Rick Bartolucci, Minister, Community Safety and Corrections
Ann Cavoukian, Ph.D, Information and Privacy Commissioner
Vahe Kehyayan, Director, Office of the Psychiatric Patient Advocate
Ellen Waxman, Assistant Deputy Minister, Accessibility Directorate of Ontario
Michael Kirby, Chair, Mental Health Commission of Canada