Ontario’s privacy commissioner has ended legal action against the force for letting U.S. border cops access sensitive non-criminal information.
Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner has dropped the case against Toronto police over their practice of letting U.S. border cops access sensitive information about suicide attempts.
Toronto police used to automatically share information about interactions with individuals in an RCMP-run national database called the Canadian Police Information Centre. U.S border police have access to CPIC, and through it, could see information on attempted suicides.
This led to Ontarians being refused entry into the United States because of attempted suicides on their record, a practice Ontario’s previous privacy commissioner, Ann Cavoukian, called “perplexing” and “indiscriminant.”
It also led to an unprecedented decision by Cavoukian to seek a court order against Toronto police to stop the sharing.
Current commissioner Brian Beamish announced Tuesday that his office has come to an agreement after working on changes to protocol with the Toronto Police Service and the Toronto Police Services Board.
The development comes almost a year after Toronto Police announced changes to the way U.S. border police access Canadians’ records, in response to a high-profile report and Star investigation into the issue.
In one high-profile case, Ellen Richardson, a woman who was travelling to New York City for a cruise in 2013, was denied entry into the country after being hospitalized the previous year.
In August 2015, following the commissioner’s announcement of legal action, Toronto police developed a new CPIC function that blocked U.S border police from seeing certain information.
Toronto Police spokesperson Mark Pugash said the force recognizes the problems inherent in sharing all the information with U.S border police.
“There were people who raised genuine and important privacy concerns and civil liberty concerns, and we acted on those concerns,” he said.
Abby Deshman, a lawyer and the public safety and policing director for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said the group was happy with today’s announcement, but wants Toronto police to go further.
“Today’s settlement is really limited in some important ways. It only addresses suicide-related mental health contacts with the police,” she said, adding other mental-health interactions with police are still shared with the border patrol. For example, someone who attempts suicide while in police custody will still have that information shared.
“The very marginal, slim possibility that this is useful information, for us is vastly outweighed by the very real discrimination and prejudice that people are facing,” she said.
Pugash said that if members of the CCLA have issues with the policy, they can have those conversations with the Toronto Police Service.
“If they have concerns, then by all means they should raise them with us. I think our work in this area shows we’re receptive and willing,” he said.
The CCLA has voiced those concerns, Deshman said, but had hoped the court case would address them. Now that the case is dropped, the association will be trying to change the policy in other ways, she said.
“We really feel there is very little justification to share this kind of information,” she said. For individuals who faced discrimination, “it’s extremely traumatizing to those people to be put through that process.”