Submission to the Ontario Standing Committee on the Administration of Justice on Bill 102
The Community Safety Act, 1996

The Council of Elizabeth Fry Societies of Ontario is a provincial membership association representing nine Elizabeth Fry Societies in Ontario. Council works directly with women in conflict with the law and strives to increase public awareness of issues affecting clients. We also provide member services to local agencies. Elizabeth Fry Societies around the province provide a range of services for women in conflict with the law, including halfway houses and other forms of housing, group and individual counseling and treatment programs, court programs, prison visits and release planning assistance, and many other services.

Bill 102 speaks to the issue of amending the Change of Name Act, the Ministry of Correctional Services Act and the Police Services Act to mandate police records checks in all applications for a change of name in Ontario. Furthermore, the Bill purports to allow for the sharing of information contained in all change of name applications between all ministries, agencies and institutions.

The Council of Elizabeth Fry Societies of Ontario has serious concerns about the dismissal of the notion of privacy and the erosion of accountability checks put into place to prevent abuses by government institutions and agencies regarding personal information. We also deplore the continued strikes against the rehabilitation of offenders made by the increasing use of community notification.

Firstly, we question the constitutionality of the Ontario government using information from criminal records, gathered on behalf of the federal government, for purposes other than those originally intended.

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I would like to go through each proposal of Bill 102 at this point.

The first proposed change, to section 3 of the Change of Name Act, has the effect of making every individual who took a new name upon marriage or other long-term relationship, have a police records check to allow them to return to use of their former name. Who would have thought that marriage was a crime! Obviously, this section will affect more women than men, making women with criminal records, no matter how minor, think twice about returning to an identity that was theirs by birth.

Importantly, the proposed section 6 (2)(h.2) now provides for disclosure of every pending charge upon application for a change of name. So, although the law of Canada states clearly that every individual charged is presumed innocent until guilt is proven, Ontario bucks that by indicating that every individual charged is presumed guilty until proven otherwise. Why else would disclosure of a pending charge be required? We also question the constitutionality of this proposal.

The substance of subsection 6(11) allowing an employee of a police force to disclose personal information about an individual for a police records check is far too open to abuse. What is meant by 'personal information'? This term is not defined in Bill 102, nor is it defined in the current Change of Name Act. Does the term 'personal information' for example include information above and beyond that required for a police records check?

The proposed new section 7.1 now mandates the Registrar General to run every name by the Solicitor General for potential information that would be included in a police records check. This has to be done, even where there are no reasonable grounds to suppose that there would be any pertinent information about an individual. In other words, the government is saying that information on the application of every citizen of Ontario (confirming that they have no criminal antecedents) must be disbelieved and must be double checked. This proposal speaks volumes about the government's trust in its citizens, to say nothing of its disrespect for cost savings in implementing yet another expensive layer of bureaucracy.
The new section 8(1.1)(b) of Bill 102 would allow the Solicitor General access to anybody else's records and information, regardless of any personal culpability. The records and information requested do not even have to be in the name of the person concerned, yet there would still be access to that information. This is altogether too much power concentrated in the hands of the police, with too much potential for abuse.

The proposed section 8(1.2) is much too open to exploitation. The Registrar General may, despite any other Act, give information and any information in the police records, to the Ministry of Correctional Services, the Ministry of Transportation and any police force, any other ministry, agency or institution that, in the opinion of the Ministry, should know about the change of name for law enforcement or corrections purposes. There is no definition of which ministries, agencies or institutions may have access to this information. Also, it is not set out what the boundaries are for forming an opinion that disclosure of this information is necessary in the first place. Furthermore, what is meant by 'law enforcement or corrections purposes'? If the police decide to 'persuade' a reluctant witness to testify on the basis of information received under this section of the legislation, does this come under 'law enforcement purposes'? What is 'corrections purposes', when the mandate of ! the Ministry of Correctional Services is to ensure the enforcement of different sentences? This section is much too vaguely worded with a lack of definitions and checks.

As for the proposed amendments to the Ministry of Correctional Services Act, section 10(2) falls under the same umbrella of concern by our organization. The section allows for anyone working in that ministry 'who is designated in the regulations' (and we are not told who the government intends to designate - is this to be any level of employee?) to disclose personal information about an individual 'in accordance with the regulations'. Again, 'personal information' is not defined, the purpose of this section is completely unclear and just about any disclosure of information can be justified as being 'in accordance with the regulations'. Prisoners have often been on the receiving end of this blanket justification for actions. Prior to this Bill, at least there were official mechanisms in place to allowing for accountability. Now this right too will be taken away. (Return to home page)

The proposed changes to the Police Services Act, allow for broad community notification of personal information about an individual. The Council of Elizabeth Fry Societies of Ontario strenuously opposes this concept. Already, offenders are sometimes hounded when trying to reintegrate back into the community. These are individuals who are often accepted by the broader community but who, for one reason or other, attract the attention of a small but vocal group within that community who have objections to the individual's return. This section allows the police to feed into that negative cycle, or even begin it, by disclosing personal information which may be outdated and alarmist. Publication of this personal information is a witch hunt of the worst kind. Often information disclosed publicly does not mention treatment programs taken or strides made to deal with the source of offending prior to release. Offenders are traditionally without the emotional strength to weather such a public storm. They may resort to going into hiding, or returning to behaviours which brought them into conflict in the first place. This obviously does not contribute to public safety but endangers it further. There is not enough accountability in this proposed section; again, the wording is too vague.

Worse still than the openness to abuse by these new proposed sections, is that the information collected by the Registrar General and the Solicitor General and that information received by any ministry, agency or institution is now to be exempted from the provisions of the Freedom of Information & Protection of Privacy Act. Currently, section 39(2) of that Act provides that the institution holding the information in question must inform the individual of the intended use of their personal information and the legal authority for collecting that information. Now, not only can this information be disclosed to just about anybody, but the individual in question does not even have the right to be informed as to where all the details of their private lives are going, into whose hands this information will fall, or the legal authority for the entire process. This provision is yet another example of the loss of an individual's right of control over their own lives through government interference.

In our Information Age, knowledge is indeed power. This Bill allows for open disclosure of personal information, with no checks in place, even to inform the individual about where their personal details are to be displayed. This is one of the greater abuses of power by a government. This erosion of personal dignity will ultimately contribute to the decline of this province as a part of a civilized democracy. The Council of Elizabeth Fry Societies does not support legislation, such as Bill 102, which contributes to the further abuse of individual rights.

Submitted by Claire Price, Executive Director, Council of Elizabeth Fry Societies of Ontario September 2, 1997

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