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This article was published 8/9/2015 (2076 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A city man is accusing the Winnipeg Police Service and Province of Manitoba of using secret records to stop his bid to be a foster parent -- even though he faces no criminal charges and has no criminal record.
Canadian Forces veteran Jason May has launched a civil suit against the police and province, claiming undisclosed police records wrongfully linked him to an outlaw motorcycle gang and caused his foster-parent licence to be revoked.
He argues his rights were violated when those allegations were shared with Child and Family Services and also when his requests to see the incriminating information were denied under Manitoba's access-to-information laws.
The lawsuit hasn't been proven in court and statements of defence have not yet been filed.
The case could set a national precedent for courts to consider how charter rights are affected by so-called non-conviction records -- a wide range of documents kept by police departments across the country about their interactions with the public.
'There's something wrong somewhere, because I am not a biker. I'm nothing of the sort.' –Jason May
"They put this black mark on your file, but then there's no checks or balances in place so you can go and fight it. You have to get a lawyer," May said, in a recent interview with the Free Press.
"It's unacceptable and it's wrong and it shouldn't be happening -- not in this country."
The lawsuit alleges May's renewal was denied in July 2013 after a criminal-risk assessment flagged him as having ties to a biker gang. May's criminal-record and vulnerable-sector checks came back clean, and he assumed there had been a clerical mistake.
A criminal charge against him was dropped after a 1993 incident in New Brunswick, and he said he's never knowingly associated with gang members.
"There's something wrong somewhere, because I am not a biker. I'm nothing of the sort," said May, who lives in Winnipeg and works in a mine in northern Ontario. He served 12 years in the military before being medically discharged due to a back injury he suffered during a peace-keeping mission in Bosnia.
Appeals, freedom-of-information requests denied
May spent nearly two years unsuccessfully trying to find out what information the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) held on him before seeking legal help. His freedom-of-information requests were denied, as were his appeals for a correction to police records.
There have been several well-publicized cases of Ontarians losing their jobs or being denied necessary security clearance because of non-conviction records, prompting proposed legislation that would limit Ontario police forces' disclosure of non-conviction information.
But such cases are rare in Manitoba.
"If it's starting to creep in here, it's hugely disconcerting," said lawyer Scott Newman, spokesman for the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association of Manitoba.
Although he couldn't speak about this particular case, Newman said the association believes the city police force has "lax rules" for deciding who is listed in its gang database.
"From a defence lawyer perspective, we say that the way they determine who is a gang member and who is not is not scientific, it's not rigorous and it ignores real-world explanations," he said. "They're basically giving nefarious purposes to behaviour that's innocently explained."
The WPS declined to comment on the issue.
Couple had cared for 60 children
Since August 2011, Jason and his wife, Melanie, had been licensed to take in three foster children for emergency placements, while raising kids of their own. Melanie quit her hospital job to care for the children full time, and, over two years' time, at least 60 children temporarily stayed with them.
"There's so many kids that need foster homes, so to think that they have shut down a perfectly safe home... it's devastating," Melanie said.
"It makes you wonder how many other people are walking around with (accusations) attached to their name and they have no idea."
Ottawa-based human rights lawyer Paul Champ, who's advocating for May free of charge, said he took on the case because he believes it has the potential to force Manitoba and other provinces to change laws dictating how police information is shared.
"We hope that the court will agree that when the police force holds information secretly, but then relies on it or shares that information with prospective employers, that implicates your rights (and) that your charter rights have been violated if you are denied any opportunity to challenge that information," Champ said.
"This is a real gap in the law across Canada, that none of the provinces really have decent mechanisms for challenging this use of non-conviction records."
Champ also wants to see a provision added to Manitoba's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act that would allow individuals to challenge these kinds of non-conviction records.
"Mr. May is a great test case because he has such an irreproachable background," Champ added. "I think anyone could see themselves in the shoes of Mr. May and his wife, Melanie, and they can see this happening to them."
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.
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