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Make suicidal history off-limits in hiring checks: B.C. Privacy Commissioner

B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham is criticizing the use of police information checks for employment purposes. - Black Press file photo
B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham is criticizing the use of police information checks for employment purposes.
— image credit: Black Press file photo

The growing use of police information checks to vet job applicants is resulting in inappropriate disclosure of highly sensitive information like mental illness and past suicide attempts.

B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham released a highly critical report on the practice Tuesday, urging government and municipal police boards to order an immediate halt.

Unlike a criminal record check, a police information check can turn up details about investigations that don't lead to charges, charges that don't lead to convictions and even the target's mental health.

"Mental health information should never be included in an employment-related record check," Denham said.

"There is no reason why this information should be disclosed to employers, who would have no right to otherwise ask about this information in the hiring process."

B.C.'s record check system allows the release of more mental health and other non-conviction information that the vast majority of other jurisdictions the commissioner's office studied.

Denham said personal information that ends up in police databases is routinely disclosed to employers without any evidence it predicts future criminal behaviour, improves public safety or results in better hiring decisions.

"The information in these checks can have a significant and lasting impact on an individual's privacy, human rights and feelings of dignity and self-worth."

Non-conviction information held by police should be off-limits in employment-related record checks except in cases of prospective employees who work with children and vulnerable adults, Denham recommended.

Denham's office heard public submissions warning that disclosures of mental health information vastly increases the potential for discrimination and further stigmatizes those afflicted.

Some submissions also warned the spectre of inappropriate police disclosure may deter some people from seeking help during a mental health crisis.

The report recounts individual cases of B.C. residents denied a job or unable to volunteer for youth coaching due to unproven police suspicions that never led to charges or past suicide attempts that turned up in their employer-required police information search.

That left some job applicants struggling to explain to prospective bosses why they were once suicidal or hospitalized for depression. Some said they have yet to land a job.

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