A police proposal to charge those acquitted of crimes a $50 (plus GST) fee to have their fingerprint and photographic records destroyed was handily defeated at last week's police services board meeting on January 24.
Avvy Go, a representative of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, characterized the idea as tantamount to profiling. "It will disproportionately affect those who are low-income," she said.
The board unanimously agreed, but why did such a proposal - to effectively hoard personal information and treat as a service what is a legal and ethical obligation - even make it to the table? The answer to that question may be found in the debate on another record-keeping proposal on which the board was less united.
Enter Ontario's privacy commissioner, Anne Cavoukian, who gave a deputation on a policy that would see the force keep records of "non-conviction dispositions" (charges dropped or thrown out) unless the individual requests their destruction and the charges are not related to violence, sex or weapons.
The commissioner expressed discomfort with the idea of differentiating between charges. She believes that people upon release assume their records are destroyed. "Such changes would be contrary to... the presumption of innocence," she stated.
Board member Justice Hugh Locke related the story of a rape case that was resolved through the use of records held over in the disputed manner. It was certainly food for serious thought - and apparently more than an appetizer for Councillor John Filion.
"I would give up that freedom," he said, "if it would mean preventing that kind of situation." In last September's meeting, when the matter was originally deferred, he said, "I don't see why the whole country doesn't provide their prints."
Filion's position is somewhat surprising, considering the recent smear campaign against him and then chair Alan Heisey.
It's true that your fingerprints and photograph reveal little about you as a person. But if they're useful in identifying you if you've committed a crime, they could also be useful in linking you to perfectly legal but currently unpopular political activity - something to keep in mind with increasingly dubious arrests south of the border.
In October, Filion sought to determine the extent to which "officers' duty to report" might have encouraged the collection of juicy tidbits on board members.
Case Ootes defended extra-legal investigations, citing the grey area of American anti-terrorism work. He took a similar position last week.
"Records are kept all over the place," he noted. "By credit card companies, by other companies." So many records being kept - what's one more?
The argument is tempting, but each new instance - not all of them popular, such as the widening collection of social insurance numbers - has used one of the others as a precedent.
The ultimate concern isn't just having a record when you've committed no crime, it's the possibility you may be committing a crime by not submitting yourself to data collection.
Board chair Pam McConnell directed staff to work with the chief and the privacy commissioner to draft a report on when the policy would and would not be appropriate.
It bears mentioning that in all the budget wrangling, discussion of Judge George Ferguson's anti-corruption recommendations was also deferred.