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Reform needed for police background checks

Legislative reform is needed to prevent the routine disclosure of unproven allegations, mental health incidents and secret surveillance in police background checks about people who have never been convicted of any criminal offence, says Toronto criminal lawyer Stephanie Heyens.

"Because more and more employers are jumping on this (police check) bandwagon, we're going to see more and more people affected," she tells the Toronto Star.

Heyens makes the comment after the newspaper published two stories that highlighted how the lives and careers of individuals have been ruined after so-called "non-conviction records" were provided to prospective employers and schools. The Star chronicled the impact of the disclosure of personal non-conviction information in the lives of about half a dozen people who lost jobs, volunteer posts or university positions, or had difficulty crossing the Canada-U.S. border even though they had never been convicted of any crime.

The newspaper says there are no firm rules in Ontario to stipulate how such information is released, leaving the discretion to individual police forces across the province.

Heyens tells The Star that she has numerous clients who have found themselves in this situation and she pointed to a man who was turned down for a job with the Toronto Transit Commission.

The lawyer says she's currently working to launch a case before the Divisional Court to challenge the absence of any process for having these records destroyed.

"This problem is accumulating to a pressure point," she tells the newspaper.

The Star also reported that lawyers see cases such as these every day and volunteer organizations, which often require police background checks, continue to wrestle with the implications.

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