Recently I was asked to submit to a vulnerable sector “police record check” by a treatment center at which I volunteer my time facilitating group recovery meetings for inpatients suffering from addiction and mental health disorders.
I agreed and sent away the form to the Toronto Police. Within a couple of weeks I received the form back with a note attached stating they were unable to complete the check until I went to a fingerprinting agency to have my “prints” submitted to the RCMP for clearance.
When speaking with others I was told that usually happens to those that have some type of police record. I am also gravely shocked to learn that many people have had their lives destroyed by these checks that can include disclosure of non-criminal dealings with the police and withdrawn and acquitted charges.
For example, the Toronto Star recently reported, “A Caledon man has abandoned his dream of being a firefighter after he was removed from a trainee position because police check detailed a childhood friendship with a suspected drug dealer, even though he himself had no contact with police”. Another man, was tossed out of nursing college for a charge that he was acquitted from over twenty years ago while working at a comic store that was subjected to a police raid.
Both the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society of Ontario are releasing reports arguing that the presumption of innocence is being undermined by police forces in Canada that lack legal framework governing what information is released.
Of course, I had “run-ins” with the police while actively sick in my alcoholism several years ago. Drunk and disorderly people are often treated as criminals, locked up and thrown in the “drunk tank” by officers in blue. Impaired behavior is part of the disease. Why, we must ask, does the police have the legal right to disclose this type of non-criminal information? I see this as a form of nothing less than discrimination and infringement upon human rights.
Also, what about those employers and educators that turn people away for their past behaviors once they receive these reports? Do they not believe in rehabilitation? Many of these places asking for the vulnerable sector checks are helping those that currently have these problems. Isn’t that ironic? This is where structural societal stigma can lead. It’s a vicious cycle. Once you’re in, it’s almost impossible to get out. Most that have not experienced this form of discrimination can’t even begin to understand. Recovery is supposed to be about rehabilitating and enabling those with mental health and addiction disorders to better their lives and become contributing citizens of society, not disabling them to the point where they have to “live off the system”, and endure even more stigma and discrimination.
This unjust “marking” of innocent people is just one example of many that attach stigmatization, discrimination, and misunderstandings to mental health. No wonder so many are scared to actually reach out for help.
About Carole Eastman
Carole is an addiction counselor whose passion is to provide support to others suffering from the disease of addiction and mental health disorders. In recovery from alcoholism for over 6 years, Carole understands the barriers and challenges many face in order to achieve a better quality of life which we are all so deserving of. Carole has raised three children as a single mother and after many years of struggling now enjoys living life on life’s terms. You can connect with her on LinkedIn, and follow her story on HMC’s Supportive Minds Blog.