Toronto police go too far

Toronto’s police chief Julian Fantino recently proposed the city police establish a fingerprint database of people who have been charged—but not convicted—of certain serious crimes, such as those involving violence, sexual offenses and weapons.

Though Fantino is adamant about the merits of the policy, it has been met with fierce opposition from others. Ontario’s information and privacy commissioner, Ann Cavoukian, called the policy an “unreasonable infringement of the privacy rights of individuals.

“Such changes would also be contrary to commonly accepted principles underlying the presumption of innocence that exist in our criminal justice system.”

Cavoukian is exactly right. The policy is unnecessary and represents a clear violation of the principle that all people are innocent until proven guilty. Toronto police should not proceed with the database.

The database has the potential to be the beginning of a very slippery slope. It essentially puts the onus on the citizen to prove his or her innocence rather than placing the onus where it belongs: on the courts and police to prove guilt. Further, officers who perceive that they can get away with overstepping the jurisdiction may potentially abuse the database. Recent developments in the past few years—such as the widespread allegations of racial profiling—have already shown that Toronto police are hardly the finest force in the land.

The whole idea of a database is indicative of Fantino’s style of policing, which is known to be somewhat heavy-handed and stern. Fortunately, Fantino is on his way out and hopefully his soon-to-be selected successor will be more respectful of the rights of the innocent.

Everyone wants to live in a safe community, but a fingerprint database of the innocent is not an appropriate way to pursue that end. Although the database may occasionally be useful, the ends simply do not justify the draconian means. The potential for abuse is too large and outweighs the potential benefits.

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