By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
New provincial legislation will allow police officers easier access to documents regarding missing person investigations.
As of July 1, the Missing Persons Act provides police with three additional tools to use when there is no evidence a crime has been committed in a missing persons case. These measures include obtaining copies of records that may assist in a search, obtaining court orders to allow entry into a premises to search for a missing person, and make urgent demands for records without a court order in certain circumstances.
Police chiefs across the province and the Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police will be required to report annually on the use of these urgent demands.
The act also sets out to obtain authorization for access to records or search warrants, and to execute urgent demands for records.
The police and courts will be required to consider privacy issues, and whether there is evidence the person who is missing does not wish to be located.
Also included in the act are guidelines on what information police may disclose about a missing person, both before and after they are located.
The Ford government has mandated the act be reviewed five years from now.
Insp. Paul Edwards of the Durham Regional Police Service’s (DRPS) Major Crime Unit told The Oshawa Express the force is “100 per cent” behind the new legislation.
“In the past, without this legislation, we were quite limited in respect to obtaining any records that aided in finding the whereabouts of missing persons,” Edwards says. “We had no legislative authority outside of a criminal investigation.”
Edwards says the purpose of the act is not to “pry into people’s records.”
“It’s a matter of community safety,” he said.
Having to tell families their hands were tied in finding a loved one was “very frustrating,” and ultimately added to the anxiety of the situation, Edwards adds.
In a released statement, Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones says the new act helps both police, and the families and friends of missing persons.
“Police and family members tell us that the first 48 hours after someone goes missing are the most critical,” Jones states. “That’s why we’re providing our front line ‘heroes’ with more tools to find our loved ones.”
Nearly 7,500 people were reported missing in Ontario in 2018, with 1,690 of them in Durham Region, according to Edwards. There have been 916 people reported missing in Durham so far in 2019.
However, he notes missing persons usually return about “99 per cent” of the time. DRPS has a member of the Homicide Unit who focuses on missing persons cases, and there are about 40 of them active in Durham.