Ontario’s privacy commissioner has filed a court action with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice Thursday in an attempt to limit Toronto police from disclosing information about attempted suicides to the country’s information-sharing database for police.
In the Notice of Application for Judicial Review, Ann Cavoukian, Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, asked that Toronto Police Services stop the practice of “automatically disclosing personal information concerning incidents of attempted suicide and threats of suicide” to the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database in cases that don’t involve a public safety issue.
This legal actions comes months after a 50-page report Ms. Cavoukian released in April titled “Crossing the Line: The Indiscriminate Disclosure of Attempted Suicide Information to U.S. Border Officials via CPIC,” in which she investigated how Ontarians’ personal information was ending up in possession of U.S. border officials after a Toronto woman had been denied entry into the U.S. on the basis of a mental health issue.
Her report recommended that law enforcement agencies employ a four-part mental health disclosure test to determine whether it is appropriate to disclose personal information relating to a threatened or attempted suicide via CPIC.
The four requirements listed in the report were that: “the suicide attempt involved the threat of serious violence or harm, or the actual use of serious violence or harm, directed at other individuals; the suicide attempt could reasonably be considered to be an intentional provocation of a lethal response by the police; the individual involved had a history of serious violence or harm to others; or the suicide attempt occurred while the individual was in police custody.”
“At its simplest, the report that we did involved an investigation with a number of police services and out of the four we talked to it was only the TPS who said that in every case of attempted suicide, they report the information, they share it with the RCMP who put it into the CPIC database and that information is shared with the U.S.,” Ms. Cavoukian said in an interview.
Toronto police spokesperson Mark Pugash said that, as a basic principle, officers across the country, for safety reasons, need the information about threatened or attempted suicides so they are aware of the situation they are called to attend. He said the information may impact “the way in which they interact with the person they’ve been called to respond to.”
“CPIC is the only way that that information can be made available to all law enforcement in the country for public safety, for the individual, for police officers, for anyone else who may be coming into contact with that person, possibly under very difficult, very stressful situations,” Mr. Pugash said. “The issue about whether or not that information is made available to agencies outside of Canada is one for the federal government.”
Ms. Cavoukian said that she shared the findings of her report with four police services – Hamilton, Waterloo, Ottawa and Toronto – and that all of them adopted her recommendations except for Toronto police.
“Public safety is a given, of course it has to be protected and law enforcement must do that, but so are the merits of personal safety, individual safety when there are no public safety issues. You also have to protect the individual,” she said. “When I couldn’t sway the Toronto police service from their position of blanket disclosure in every case of attempted suicide, I felt I had to do something.”