Q: I heard that police officers are able to request confidential client information if they believe that it will assist in finding a missing person. Is that true?
A: Yes. Ontario’s Missing Persons Act came into effect on July 1, 2019, and defines a missing person as someone in both of the following circumstances. The person’s whereabouts are unknown and:
- the person has not been in contact with people who would likely be in contact with them; or
- it is reasonable in the circumstances to fear for the person’s safety because of the circumstances surrounding the person’s absence or because of any other prescribed considerations; and
- police were unable to locate the person after making reasonable efforts to do so.
The purpose of the new law is to assist police in locating a missing person where no criminal investigation is underway. Under the new law, once a client is established to be a missing person, police officers are able to request information contained in client records with an urgent demand, an order for the production of records or a search warrant.
Police officers may make an urgent demand for records (including health or student records, and records relating to services received through a Children’s Aid Society) if they believe:
- the individual has the relevant records;
- the records would help locate a missing person; and
- in the time required to obtain an order, the missing person may be seriously harmed, or the records may be destroyed.
An urgent demand must be in writing and on the appropriate form. If a member receives an urgent demand, they should review it carefully. A member must provide copies of the records specified in the urgent demand, as soon as is reasonably possible. The urgent demand may specify a copy of all or part of the client record; if the police officer consents, an oral description of the information contained in the requested record may be provided.
If a member provides a copy of a client’s record, or part of it, to a police officer as a result of an urgent demand, this should be documented in the client record. Members should indicate the specifics of the request, including the format, retain a copy of the urgent demand, and specify the extent of the information that was provided to the police.