Ontario’s provincial police service will no longer release the gender of people who are charged with crimes and those who are victims of crimes. The policy change comes following a review of legislation and the need to be more progressive, a spokesperson said.
“When we were reviewing our standard operating procedures, we realized we were including information that was not permissible for us to release,” said Sgt. Carolle Dionne, the spokesperson for the Ontario Provincial Police.
“It doesn’t matter if it was a male or a female who was an impaired driver or speeding down the highway, what matters is that we pulled them over and laid a charge.”
The OPP says a regular review of the Police Services Act, the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, as well as the Ontario Human Rights Code forced the change. Those pieces of legislation have not recently been updated.
“We have a lot of individuals who identify as male but actually are female, or vice versa. That’s one of the reasons. Also, we want to respect the wishes of individuals,” Dionne said.
Often, a name in a media release is gender-specific. However, in cases where someone’s gender is not immediately apparent, the OPP used to clarify gender when asked.
“We will now say “the individual” or “the accused,” and not use gender-specific pronouns,” Dionne said. “In the case of a suspect where we need to be more specific, we will say “appears to be a female” or “appears to be a male.”
The OPP will still keep gender-specific statistics, she said.
No harm in gender being revealed
Police will still release other information such as the name, age, or hometown of an individual.
It’s one of the reasons the move by the OPP seems “overly cautious” and possibly a result of preemptively trying to avoid legal liability, said Ottawa Human Rights Lawyer Elie Lakaby, who specializes in human rights and policing law.
“If the person is charged, their name and other information will form part of the record. I understand the need to be considerate of everybody’s feelings, however this appears overly cautious,” Lakaby said. “If there is an error in the gender that is released, it could be easily mitigated.”
“Are you trying to protect the person’s identity, or are you trying to protect yourself from liability? Instead of training your officers to understand the human rights code and how to deal with people, you’re being overly administrative.”
Other police services
Other police services have not followed the OPP’s lead. For example, the Toronto and London police services continue to release the genders of people charged or accused of crimes.
“The police services act and related regulations provide the chief with the discretionary ability to release personal information in specified circumstances,” a media spokesperson for the London police said. “This includes the discretionary ability to release information relating to an individual’s gender in appropriate circumstances.”
The province’s privacy commissioner said Ontario’s freedom of information laws do not prohibit the disclosure of gender.
“There may be other laws and decisions, such as the Ontario Human Rights Code, that may be applicable,” Privacy Commissioner Brian Beamish said.
“There may also be a reluctance to release information that is not required to identify any individual but that an individual may feel is privacteand personal. We are not aware of other police services in Ontario that employ this policy.”