Putting Privacy First in Reviews of Sexual Violence Cases

Police leaders from across Canada have launched new best practices for responding to sexual violence. They include a made-in-Ontario approach to case review, one that draws on community expertise, while still protecting the privacy of complainants, witnesses and others.

Last week, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police released the Canadian Framework for Collaborative Police Response on Sexual Violence.

Key elements of the case review approach were developed in consultation with our office, Kingston Police Chief Antje McNeely and Sunny Marriner, lead of the Violence Against Women Advocate Case Review Project, and an advocate working to address gender-based violence in Ontario and across Canada.

The approach to sexual violence case review is based on the Philadelphia Model, a method that originated in the U.S. city to improve police response to sexual assault complaints.

It uses a collaborative process, bringing in community advocates and other outside experts to review sexual violence files for gaps, inconsistencies or biases. It was developed as a way to take a second look at sexual violence cases that are reported to police and later closed without charge.

Our initial consultations with police to ensure the model respects Ontario’s privacy laws was highlighted in a Globe and Mail investigative series. I’m pleased that we were able to build on this work and help develop a model for case review that can be used by police forces across Canada.

To protect privacy, reviewers are required to submit to background checks, sign a confidentiality agreement and receive confidentiality training. Reviews take place at police facilities, and no identifying information is copied, retained, or removed by the reviewers.

Applying these and other best practices ensures the dignity of complainants is protected and fewer sexual assault cases will be closed due to human error or bias.


Brian Beamish
Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario

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