EDITORIAL: Bar set high on new police tools to find the missing

SDSG MPP Jim McDonell. (MPP Office via Newswatch Group, File)

When a loved one goes missing, swift action is critical. That’s why our government is providing police with more tools to quickly respond to adult missing persons investigations across the province.

The Missing Persons Act came into force on July 1st with strong support from the policing community, families and advocates. In 2018, almost 7,500 adults were reported missing to police in Ontario. Police and family members tell us that the first hours after a loved one goes missing are the most critical. With this new legislation in force, police across the province will have additional tools to find adult missing persons during time-sensitive investigations.

This legislation provides police with three new tools to use in cases where there is no evidence a crime has been committed. The first tool allows police to obtain a court order to access certain information that may assist in a search. This could include personal health information, such as hospital records, or telephone and other electronic communications. The second tool allows police to obtain a court order to allow entry into a premises to search for a missing person and the third tool enables police to make an urgent demand for records without a court order in certain urgent circumstances. Each of these tools will help police find our loved ones.

While these tools will assist police in missing persons investigations, our government also understands that not every person who goes missing wants to be found. To strike this delicate balance, the legislation has built in safeguards to protect individual privacy. These safeguards include setting a high bar for accessing records or search warrants. Furthermore, police and the courts must also consider carefully any privacy issues that may arise. This includes evidence that a person does not wish to be found and guidelines on what information police may disclose about a missing person after they have been located.

In Ontario, there is a different process for police investigations into missing children. One of police officers’ essential tools is an AMBER Alert, which can be issued in certain urgent instances to reach Ontarians across the province in an effort to help police find missing children. Recently, we have heard reports that the public is using 9-1-1 as a platform to complain about Amber Alert notifications. Complaining about receiving an Amber Alert is more than just insensitive – it’s dangerous. People who use 9-1-1 as a complaint’s hotline are taking up critical emergency resources. When a child goes missing, we all have a role to play. Many children have been located as a direct result of Amber Alerts – but it only works if everyone receives these alerts. The bottom line is simple: a missing child is an emergency. That’s why I continue to urge individuals not to waste our emergency resources to complain about this essential tool.

If you have any questions about the new Missing Persons legislation, please contact the Solicitor-General’s office at 1-866-517-0571 or visit the website.

Jim McDonell
MPP, Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry