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Missing Persons in Ontario – new police powers and the impact of the new law on healthcare providers

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On July 1st a new law came into effect: the Missing Persons Act, 2018.

Healthcare organizations and providers need to know about this new law because there may be new documentation from police you will need to review.

The police now have more powers when investigating missing persons in Ontario.

Missing Person

A “missing person” isn’t just anyone. A missing person is someone whose whereabouts are unknown and the person has not been in contact with people who would likely be in contact with the person or it is reasonable in the circumstances to fear for the person’s safety.

Missing persons cases are not always criminal investigations and police were limited in the tools they could use to find and locate missing people.  With the new law, the police are given additional powers to compel the production of records and information from anyone, including healthcare providers. This law addresses devastating situations for families with missing loved ones and frustrating limits for police in collecting all relevant information.

What’s New – “Urgent Demands for Records”

A police officer can now provide anyone (including a healthcare organization) with an “urgent demand for records“. This is new.

A police officer may make an urgent demand in writing requiring you to produce records (including health records) if the officer is satisfied that:

  1. You have relevant records
  2. The records would help locate a missing person
  3. Time is sensitive and the missing person would be harmed or the records destroyed if not produced immediately

The police officer has to consider whether the public interest in finding the missing person overrides privacy interests. That’s the officer’s job – not yours.

What you have to do: If you are presented with a written urgent demand for records – you are required by law, the Missing Persons Act, 2018, to produce the records set out.  You should treat this kind of document like a court order or coroner’s letter.

What’s the Same but You Should Know – Court Orders and Search Warrants

Police officers can also get a court order or warrant to compel you to produce health records to them relating to missing persons cases. As has always been the case, you must comply with any court order or warrant.  What’s good for you to know is that the police now have the authority to get these orders and warrants in the situation of missing persons.

Police officers can also ask a justice to issue a search warrant to enter any premises in the case of missing persons. So, just as you have always done, you will have to comply with a properly executed search warrant.

Bottom Line:  Healthcare organizations are subject to privacy laws to protect health information.  However, if you are required by law to release health information to police because of a court order, warrant, urgent demand for records or search warrant – you must comply. 

If you are concerned that the police officer’s documentation is not in order, you should seek urgent legal advice.  However, note that the Missing Persons Act, 2018 relates to time sensitive situations.   You should get advice as quickly as possible.   

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