Missing Persons Act protects vulnerable persons

IMPROVING access to information that may hold clues to a missing person’s whereabouts – consistent with recommendations of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry (MWCI) – is the central goal of new legislation introduced on Thursday.

The proposed law focuses on cases where a missing person hasn’t been seen, or in touch with people who are normally involved in their lives. It also focuses on vulnerable or at-risk persons whose safety and welfare are of concern because of their age, physical or mental capabilities, or the circumstances surrounding their absence. The proposed legislation strikes the appropriate balance between access to key information and privacy rights.

If passed, the Missing Persons Act will define who is a “missing person”, “vulnerable missing person” or “person at risk”. In cases meeting these thresholds, police will be able to apply for a court order:
* Requiring someone who has a missing person’s records to provide police with access to them. The legislation sets out the scope of records a justice may order released, including telephone calls, text messages, video footage, and employment, financial and other relevant data.

* Allowing entry with a court order into a private home or other location where they believe the minor, vulnerable person or person at risk is.

* Providing access to the records of a person last seen with, or believed to be in the company of, a missing minor, vulnerable person or person at risk.

When there is an emergency such as a risk of serious harm to a missing person or a concern that records could be destroyed, the act will authorize officers to directly demand access to records.

These changes mirror the intent of MWCI recommendations calling for single-purpose legislation “to grant speedy access to personal information of missing persons without unduly infringing on privacy rights”.

Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton said: “This legislation acknowledges that access to relevant records can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. Our proposed legislation not only meets the intent of Commissioner Oppal’s recommendations, but it also strikes a critical balance between disclosing and protecting information, with the safety and welfare of vulnerable people as its paramount goal.”