Job applicants with criminal records need human rights protections

Students and graduates seeking employment opportunities can face discrimination and barriers due to police record checks

Job applicants with criminal records need human rights protections

For most students, employment opportunities, volunteering, and experiential learning are a necessary stage in one’s academic and professional career. For some students — particularly in nursing, or education, or even medicine — your credentials may not be enough to get a placement: various types of criminal record checks may be required. These ‘checks’ may also be a standard part of screening for an eventual job.

But what you may not know is that record checks can reveal a lot of information: information that is very old, irrelevant to the position being applied for, or even information that a person may not even be aware is there. Even though the person may be legally innocent — in that they have not been convicted of a crime — such information on a record can create barriers to placements and employment and therefore have a negative impact on someone’s future as young professionals.

Employers are using record checks more and more as a risk screening tool and as a result, these ‘checks’ may create a stigma rather than depicting the reality of the situation and therefore must be used with caution as a risk management tool. According to the John Howard Society, having a record can reduce someone’s chances of getting a job by up to 50 per cent, and that number is likely worse for racialized populations. Some employers have policies on what to do when they see a positive result on a criminal check; others might just put the application in the garbage.

Many of those who have never been convicted of a crime are unaware that the current operating system of police record checks in Ontario can still pose barriers to employment through revealing sensitive information to employers. This can occur through disclosing criminal charges that were withdrawn or stayed, charges in which the individual was acquitted, and non-criminal police contact when there was no conviction or finding of guilt. There are currently no province-wide standards on what type of information can or cannot be disclosed on various levels of record checks.

Over 100,000 cases on average are processed through Ontario courts every year. Of those, more than 40 per cent are withdrawn, stayed, or acquitted. According to the article “Race, Crime, and Criminal Justice in Canada”, by Akwasi Owusu-Bempah and Scot Wortley, Indigenous people are overrepresented at nearly every stage of the criminal justice system. Moreover, Black people are overrepresented in cannabis possession arrests in Ontario. This police contact can be revealed in future background checks. However, allegations are not convictions. There is no legal basis for this information to appear in police background checks. It is important to notice that there is a racial dimension to the issue of non-conviction records and who they affect.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association created a report in 2012 with interviews of many who have lost educational or employment opportunities as a result of the disclosure of non-conviction records. Many of these people didn’t even know they had something on their record.

However, Ontario passed the Police Records Check Reform Act, 2015 on December 1 that year. Also known as Bill 113, the act standardizes disclosure practices across police services and promotes fairness and respect for the privacy of individuals when they request for a police record check. It will be implemented in law as of November 1, 2018.

There is currently very little protection in the Ontario Human Rights Code for people with criminal records, and no protection for people with non-conviction records, which means that employers are legally allowed to discriminate. It can also be the sole reason as to why you are denied a volunteer or employment opportunity. Even when the law comes into force later this year, employers should still know how to interpret a criminal or non-criminal record and should be encouraged to take a nuanced approach in assessing the relevance of a particular record to the specific position being applied for.

We as students must mobilize together and raise greater awareness about the barriers that the current system imposes on our professional future with regard to human rights protection. Raising awareness through engaging in activities such as signing petitions and participating in public demonstrations can be impactful. The Ontario Human Rights Commission must redefine how employer practices must be adhered to in the context of police record checks.

Sonia Gill and Proshat Babaeian both completed the 2017–2018 masters program in Criminology at the Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies. They work with the John Howard Society of Ontario.

Shooting near St. George subway station hospitalizes two

SIU investigation closes Bedford Road

Shooting near St. George subway station hospitalizes two

A daytime shooting near UTSG is the subject of investigation by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU).

The shooting occurred at around 3:30 PM near Bedford Road and Prince Arthur Avenue — steps away from one of the entrances to St. George subway station. Toronto criminal lawyer Randall Barrs, who has his office on 23 Bedford Road, is among the two victims who are in serious condition.

Toronto Police Services and U of T Campus Police have closed off Bedford Road between Lowther Avenue and Bloor Street West.

The SIU is a civilian agency responsible for investigating instances involving police officers that result in serious injury, death, or sexual assault allegations and has the ability to lay criminal charges on officers, if the SIU Director believes charges are necessary.

This story is developing, more to follow

Five-hour lockdown at UTSG ends as Toronto Police conclude investigation

One man arrested, released without charges

Five-hour lockdown at UTSG ends as Toronto Police conclude investigation

Several buildings centred around the north-eastern part of the St. George campus were on lockdown after Toronto Police received calls about a suspicious person at 9:30 AM on June 13.

At 10:15 AM, students were alerted that Falconer Hall, the Faculty of Law, the Edward Johnson Building, the Munk School of Global Affairs, the Varsity Centre, and all building affiliated with Victoria University and Trinity College were closed. Students and faculty in these buildings at the time were asked to remain inside until the all-clear was given.

University Avenue and Queen’s Park Crescent were also closed between Bloor Street and Hoskin Avenue. The TTC had also announced that subways are also bypassing Museum Station.

The lockdown was lifted for all buildings on campus at around 3:15 PM. As well, the roads reopened and subway service to Museum Station resumed.

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders told reporters that police had seen a photo of a “male subject, dressed in all black with a black knapsack and a mask” with reports of this person armed with a gun.

An arrest was also made, but Saunders said that the suspect was  “not the same likeness” as the person in the photo, and declined to elaborate further. The suspect was later released without charges.

Wycliffe College student Orvin Lao was coming out of Museum Station when the situation began to unfold and described the scene.

“Another pedestrian was telling me to duck and cover as there is a man with a rifle running around the Faculty [of Music]. And so I hid for a bit at the stairwell that led to the subway,” he told The Varsity. “I saw two female officers with unholstered firearms and another male officer a few yards ahead with an automatic assault rifle crouching.”

Convocation for Rotman MBA and St. Michael’s College graduates proceeded as usual.

In a statement, U of T president Meric Gertler thanked the Toronto Police, campus police, and members of the U of T community for acting swiftly: “I think I speak for many of us when I say that this has been a distressing day, but I am very relieved at the outcome.”

UPDATED: Several buildings at UTSG on lockdown after reports of armed person

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders confirms one person in custody, convocation unaffected

Update (June 13, 4:49pm): The lockdown has been lifted for all buildings on campus.

Several buildings centred around the north-eastern part of campus are on lockdown after Toronto Police received calls about a suspicious person at 9:30 AM.

The following buildings continue to be on lockdown as Toronto Police continue its investigation:

  • Falconer Hall — 84 Queen’s Park
  • Faculty Of Law — 78 Queen’s Park
  • Faculty Of Music: Edward Johnson Building — 80 Queen’s Park

Those who are already in these buildings are being asked to remain inside until the all-clear has been given.

Earlier today, the lockdown extended to more buildings on campus. The following buildings are no longer closed:

  • Trinity College — 6 Hoskin Avenue
  • Munk School Of Global Affairs — 1 Devonshire Place
  • Gerald Larkin Building — 15 Devonshire Place
  • Varsity Centre — 299 Bloor Street West
  • All buildings affiliated with Victoria University

In addition, Queen’s Park Crescent between Bloor Street and Hoskin Avenue remain closed off. The TTC has also announced that subways are also bypassing Museum station.

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders told reporters that police has seen a photo of a “male subject, dressed in all black with a black knapsack and a mask” with reports of this person armed with a gun.

An arrest was also made, but Saunders said that the suspect in custody is “not the same likeness” as the person in the photo,  and declined to elaborate further

“We’re making sure we’re clearing as best to our abilities, utilizing our tactical officers, as well as our dogs to ensure we can maximize the safety of everybody here,” said Saunders.

Convocation for Rotman Graduate students was unaffected by the lockdown. Convocation for St. Michael’s College students will also go on as planned.

“We have no reason to believe there will be any safety concerns during convocation,” said U of T president Meric Gertler, in his convocation address for Rotman students.

This story is developing, more to follow.

Update (June 13, 12:08pm): This story has been updated to include comments from Mark Saunders and Meric Gertler.

Update (June 13, 2:24pm): The list of buildings under lockdown has been updated.

Is it really time to disarm the police?

Why Toronto cops should continue carrying firearms

Is it really time to disarm the police?

Last month, Toronto Star columnist Desmond Cole argued that the Toronto Police Service’s frontline officers should no longer carry guns, citing recent shootings of emotionally-disturbed persons. While frustration in light of these deaths is absolutely understandable, depriving Toronto’s patrol officers of lethal force would be an overreaction with dangerous consequences for police and civilians alike.

In defence of his proposition, Cole recalled two recent incidents in Montreal where armed suspects were subdued using rubber ammunition. He omitted, however, that in Montreal, as in Toronto, patrol officers still carry and use lethal firearms, because only specialized units have access to rubber ammunition. In the two incidents he touted, the suspects were surrounded for an extended period of time, which allowed the tactical unit sufficient time to arrive and make use of their less deadly weapons.

Less lethal weapons, such as rubber bullets and Tasers, are indeed valuable tools in policing, but they are merely a complement to, not a replacement for, lethal firearms. Rubber bullets are known to have a reduced expected accuracy (in comparison to regular ammunition), albeit they still cause serious injury or death when striking the head or neck. 

On the other hand, Tasers are extremely limited in range and rate of fire, and can be either too weak to incapacitate a suspect or so strong as to kill the target. Despite these limitations, Tasers cost around $1,500 each — twice the cost of a handgun — and would increase Toronto’s already massive police budget, if they were to be provided to all 5,000 frontline officers.

More importantly, the threat of gun crime in Toronto appears to remain present. Military grade weapons are seized from local criminal elements, and in 2015, there were 255 shootings in the city.

Furthermore, research shows that in 51 per cent of active shooter incidents in the United States from 2000-2010, the police arrived while the attack was ongoing. During 40 per cent of these occasions, the situation was resolved only when responding officers shot the suspect. Such incidents cannot be understood as an exclusively American phenomenon; civilians, politicians, members of the Canadian Forces, and police officers have all been targets in Canada in recent years. If anything, there is a case to be made for a faster and safer response to such events, meaning Canadian police officers should in fact be more heavily armed.

There still remains the issue that the use of lethal firearms to subdue a suspect is, in some cases, inappropriate and excessive. This is true, particularly when it comes to police interactions with those who are mentally ill. 

As residents of Toronto, we should require our police officers to be ready for anything.

Improvements are being made though; in each of the Toronto Police Service’s 17 divisions, there is almo∂st always a supervisor on duty who has a Taser. The Emergency Task Force and other specialized units also carry less lethal weapons. Additionally, Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams, comprised of a police officer and a mental health nurse, are available nearly 24/7 in 14 police divisions. The Toronto Police Service is also in the midst of a pilot project that examines the feasibility of three models of body cameras, devices that could have provided more details for investigation in shootings, like in the case of Andrew Loku.

Every police-involved death is a tragedy and, to some extent, could have been prevented. Police officers are placed in unimaginably stressful and dangerous situations every day, and the vast majority of these incidents are resolved peacefully. However, there are times when the force needed to protect the public is lethal. As residents of Toronto, we should equip our police officers to be ready for anything.

Emmett Choi is a fifth-year student at Victoria College studying philosophy and American Studies.