Call 911 and report having been threatened by an ex-spouse, hated neighbour or jealous co-worker. Now, sit back and watch the ruination of a potential career or volunteer service. It’s as easy as that.

Or, for those of a less malevolent bent, mistakenly identifying someone in a police report is enough to put a permanent blot on his name and reputation.

Welcome to the murky world of police records and background checks, where baseless allegations stick forever and the presumption of innocence is an empty vessel.

The problem is not new — civil libertarians have been railing against it for years — but the ramifications grow steadily more destructive. With personal information proliferating in official files and requests for background checks billowing, a probing look into the insidious havoc being wreaked on personal reputations and career aspirations is long overdue.

As with many institutional excesses, the misuse of records arises from positive impulses — protecting institutions from troublemakers and vulnerable individuals from being preyed upon by crooks or sex offenders.

Not content with merely scanning criminal convictions, however, over-cautious bureaucrats and employment recruiters now pore over records of unproven allegations; incidental contacts with police officers; charges that were withdrawn by the Crown; and incidents relating to mental health.

While some police forces vet these records carefully before releasing those that are most pertinent, others transfer them indiscriminately. In the absence of centralized guidelines or firm regulations, these decisions are up to individual forces.

Thus, an upstanding citizen who was briefly investigated for marijuana possession in his teens may be unwittingly branded for life. A loving parent who had false accusations filed by a bitter ex-spouse may well be precluded from adopting should she remarry.

As Published in:

The Star

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