• 03/25/11 - - Police keep tabs on 85% of B.C. population

    - - Police keep tabs on 85% of B.C. population

    Sarah Boesveld, National Post, Mar. 24, 2011: More than 85% of British Columbians are named in the province’s police database, according to the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which warns citizens could be passed up for jobs and volunteer positions because of misleading red flags.

    The database — known as PRIME-BC — is designed to help police target repeat offenders, but is also used for criminal record and background checks for work with children, seniors and other vulnerable people.

    The database’s “master name records” list includes names collected by police but not implicated in any crime. In some cases, the list includes people who simply reported a crime.

    The RCMP say the information is valuable and necessary, and help police track repeat offenders. But the B.C. Civil Liberties Association said this week it has seen an increase in complaints from people who have had fleeting encounters with police years ago - everything from disturbance calls to traffic violations - that are now being held against them.

    The check includes all “information related to non-convictions and all charges regardless of disposition” about them. That’s widely known as “negative police contact,” said David Eby, executive director of the B.C. association.

    “The police are saying ‘this person is a bad person’ if they’ve had negative police contact. And that’s enough, unless the person can explain it,” he said. And even if they can, employers rarely want to take the risk, he said, in case they get sued or enter any other kind of legal trouble.

    On Wednesday, Jose Luis Guinea in Surrey, B.C., filed an official complaint with the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP. He said he is having trouble finding work, thanks in part to the fact that a paramedic called the police on him back in 2007. The disagreement with the emergency medical worker, which happened while he was trying to help his friend’s daughter who had suffered a seizure, did not result in charges. But when Mr. Guinea ran a criminal and vulnerable sector record check in order to get a job in his field as a recreation coordinator in a senior’s residence, the local police ticked off the box that said the 57-year-old Peruvian immigrant “may or may not” have had a negative police contact.

    “I applied to two more jobs like that and that creates doubt in the employer’s mind when it says may or may not,” he said.

    Mr. Eby said most people tagged in the check had forgotten the incident completely, since police did not pursue further action. They only find out it is on record as having being negative once the employer or organization calls the police for more details with the applicant’s consent during a check, he said.

    The check leaves scant room for details, and can raise red flags for employers, school officials and volunteer organizations suspicious enough to keep applicants from landing positions for which they are otherwise qualified, Mr. Eby added.

    “It’s a judgment call on the part of the officer recording the data and the officer reading the data and filling out the completed form,” he said. “That’s exactly where we run into trouble.”

    The RCMP in B.C. is now poised to revisit the classification in response to the complaints, said Robert Murray, an RCMP manager in Ottawa.

    “We’re changing it for that reason,” he said, though he could not say when that change is scheduled to occur.

    Even still, similar complaints about background checks are on the rise across the country, civil liberties associations say, as more and more employers and volunteer organizations require them. Meanwhile, local police services are broadening their information sharing networks to include anyone in contact with their service. In Alberta, a new, $65-million database designed to help officers share information in real time has raised privacy concerns. TALON is expected to be fully online by 2013, and critics fear the system could give police information without having to ask for it.

    Graeme Norton, who oversees the public safety program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, says he’s also seen an uptick in complaints linked to the vagaries in background checks and the seemingly irrelevant information that is sometimes included.

    Employers tend to read too deeply into the information supplied by police and interpret what they will about the person from that report, he said. “In some cases [vagueness] is a good thing because there’s not a need to be overly inclusive with information that might not be relevant to a potential employer,” he said. “At the same time, it can leave lingering suspicions with people that something more may have happened than what was documented.”

    National Post

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