Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/8/2016 (1185 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Any system we have in our society is only as good as the people running that system, and the information that it is based upon. This is as true today in our justice system, as it ever was.
Apparently even when that system is heavily electronic.
On Saturday, the Sun brought you the story of Danny Joseph Bunn, who was arrested earlier this month by Brandon police under the mistaken belief that he was breaching a bail order by possessing or drinking alcohol.
In fact, that bail order — which was related to an assault charge out of Winnipeg — had previously been dropped in that city. In fact, the order should have expired in 2015, when the charge on which it was based was dropped back in July 2015.
Just imagine being arrested and locked up for something that you didn’t actually do, all based on a court file that was never updated with the most recent court decision.
This was more than merely an oversight. Bunn’s situation is part of a recurring problem with the Canadian Police Information Centre, a national database that allows police organizations like our own in Brandon to quickly access information that includes criminal records and any court orders that citizens are bound by. For some reason, it seems that CPIC wrongly recorded that Bunn’s bail order was still in place, and the police were acting upon bad information.
Bunn’s arrest was actually the fourth time in three weeks that a record-keeping oversight led to a mistaken arrest. Back in late July, a 14-year-old boy pleaded guilty to charges that should have erased his bail order. But later that same evening he was mistakenly arrested for breach of recognizance. He was released the next morning and the Crown dropped his new charges, but he was arrested again two days later and held in jail for the rest of the weekend.
Also in late July, a 14-year-old girl was arrested based on a bail order that had expired the day before, and she too was held in jail for the weekend.
In these two recent cases, a CPIC clerk employed by the Brandon Police Service was backed up and didn’t get to update the youth’s files in time. In Bunn’s case, it’s not the fault of the Brandon police — the Winnipeg Police Service took ownership of the updating “anomaly” that led to Bunn’s arrest.
Human error certainly will be a factor in many such cases, if not all of them. As such, a few isolated instances can — perhaps — be understood, though not tolerated. In order to mitigate further occurrences, a new policy has been introduced to prevent them.
And in Winnipeg, WPS Const. Jason Michalyshen told the Sun that police currently work with paper records as they update the system, but the force is working with Manitoba Justice to make the system more efficient so mistakes like this don’t happen again.
But problems surrounding the fallibility of the CPIC system go beyond simply local instances of overburdened staff. The RCMP, as the national police force, administer CPIC and have been doing so since it was launched in 1972. Over the last several years, the RCMP has been overhauling CPIC as it moves away from paper records to electronic ones. But the resulting backlog is huge. It was estimated in March 2015 that the backlog won’t be cleared until 2018.
At the same time, the CPIC faced a large budget cut last April in the federal budget, with funding dropping from $6.5 million to $5.9 million, a nearly 10 per cent drop, according to a Global News report. Then-public safety minister Steven Blaney said he had been assured the national police force had sufficient resources to meet the needs of Canada’s law enforcement officials, and that there was no threat to the safety of Canadians.
Nevertheless, out-of-date records have been noted during bail hearings and sentencings in Brandon provincial court, where Crown attorneys provide a CPIC record supplemented with handwritten updates because the system is out of date.
Any time people are wrongly jailed, or when police have the wrong information in a national file, that is a threat to the safety of Canadians. We suggest the federal government move to properly fund the CPIC system, and help the RCMP cut down this nagging backlog. It’s only a matter of time before a few of these wrongly jailed Canadians find lawyers and file complaints.