Standard police checks will no longer include mental health records or acquittals under new Ontario law. Wow. This is a significant step in the right direction. Good for you, Ontario! But wait. Did you even realize that this was standard practice in Ontario and continues in other Canadian provinces? Or, maybe you wonder why this even matters. It might matter if you are applying for a job.
The information that is supplied to potential employers as part of a criminal records check is used to influence a hiring decision for some organizations. Much of that information is important and relevant to certain jobs and industries. But mental health information should not be included and revealed to potential employers. As both a mental health advocate and a human resources professional, I have long believed that this is a violation of privacy. It also speaks to so many flaws in the way we view, react to, and treat those with mental illness.
Police should not have to act as first responders to a person in the midst of a mental health crisis. Unfortunately, this is commonly the case. In a Globe and Mail article published last fall in follow up to Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and former Police Chief Jim Chiu's call to action the year before, the following details about police calls were provided:
"Of all reported incidents that police responded to, 21 percent involved a person with a mental illness - and the department feels the true figure is probably closer to 30 percent, Constable Montague said. But even at 21 percent, you're looking at tens of thousands of calls a year - like 300,000 calls a year, 75 calls a day, every day. It's a huge issue, there's no doubt about it."
So let's say that you were once one of those people in crisis, medical crisis to be clear. Fast forward to healthier days and you are being considered for employment. It might be your dream job or it might not. But I'll tell you what employment is for a person who has struggled with mental illness and disability: it provides a sense of purpose, a paycheque to pay for a home and food, and it is connection to community. A job is never really just a job.
Mental illness is considered a disability and under the Canadian Human Rights Code disability is a protected ground. As such, it is illegal for an employer to refuse employment to a candidate because that person has had, or currently has, a mental illness. Throw irrelevant information into the mix by way of a criminal records check and an employer who may not understand the legalities and implications of declining employment, and you have a problem. No, not a problem - more like a human rights violation.
All provinces and territories in Canada who still include mental health records in a criminal records check need to follow Ontario's lead and make these changes. Let's stop treating those of us with a mental illness as second class citizens. Time to open some new doors, don't you think?
P.S. To read the Globe and Mail article about the policy change in Ontario click on this link.