The territorial government is considering a new law that would help police find missing people more quickly.
If passed, the legislation would allow investigators to apply for a court order to access someone’s personal information like their health, banking or telephone records, even if there’s no evidence of a crime.
“Providing the tools to allow law enforcement to respond appropriately to missing persons is an important issue,” said assistant deputy justice minister Al Lucier.
Currently, police can request a court order for someone’s private information only if there’s evidence that a crime has been committed.
Not all reports of missing people come with clear evidence of a crime, said Yukon RCMP Staff Sgt. Jane Boissonneault, “because a person is allowed to go missing. There’s no law being broken.”
In those cases police have to try other methods to get the information they need, she said. Officers might be able to get a look at a bank account if it’s a joint account with someone else, or see phone records if the bill is being paid by a parent or family member.
Boissonneault said it’s possible police would be denied information on a missing person and be stopped because of privacy rules. It’s not something she has personally experienced, she said.
Being able to get faster access to information could keep missing people safer, Lucier said.
“The earlier you can get on determining the whereabouts of this individual, the less likely that they may fall into circumstances that are potentially more criminal,” he said.
Missing persons legislation already exists in many other Canadian jurisdictions including B.C. and Alberta. If Yukon passes its own law it would be the first of its kind in the North.
Boissonneault said the RCMP doesn’t comment on pending legislation because it is not enforceable yet.
“What I can say is the more tools we have that we can use in our investigations, the better off we are, and the public in general are,” she said.
Lucier acknowledged that whatever form the Yukon legislation could take will have to respect people’s right to privacy.
“It for sure is a delicate and fine line between the protection of individuals’ rights to privacy and being able to adequately respond.”
A definition for what it means to be “missing” and a clear understanding of the threshold officers would have to meet to get this kind of court order would also need to be worked out.
Advocates in other jurisdictions have raised concerns about laws like this being misused to help find people who might not want to be found, such as someone fleeing an abusive relationship.
As it stands, when police find someone who has been reported missing officers don’t reveal where that person has been found without their permission, said Boissonneault.
In some cases, with consent of the person who was reported missing, officers will tell the family that the person has been located but not reveal where they are, she said.
In other cases the family will be told the file has been “concluded” but not told why.
Those rules would not change if a new law is created, she said.
“We will not automatically tell the person who reported them missing where they are.”
There were 125 missing person reports filed in the Yukon in 2016. The data doesn’t break down how many individuals that is. If someone goes missing repeatedly, they would have more than one report.
Boissonneault encouraged the public to call the police if they think someone has gone missing. The belief that you have to wait 24 hours is a myth, she said.
For now the Yukon government is just consulting on the possibility of creating the law. A survey is available on the Department of Justice website and will be open until Sept. 11.
Lucier couldn’t say when a new bill might be drafted.
Contact Ashley Joannou at firstname.lastname@example.org