Police, shelter welcome new powers to track missing women

November 8, 2017

Ottawa police, along with at least one Indigenous organization in the capital, are welcoming a new bill they say will make it easier to locate missing women. 

Bill 175, known as the Safer Ontario Act, was introduced last week. If passed, it would enact the Missing Persons Act, which the provincial government says fulfills a commitment it made in February 2016 to end violence against Indigenous women.

The act would make it easier for police to obtain cellphone and credit card records of missing women, even without evidence that a crime has been committed.

Those expanded powers were included in the recommendations of a coroner's inquest into the deaths of seven Indigenous youth in Thunder Bay held earlier this year.

According to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, the new measures will allow police in Ontario to "conduct effective missing persons investigations."  

Phone, bank, travel records

The changes would let courts issue warrants allowing police to track phone, banking and travel records of missing people if there's any concern they may have come to harm. Currently courts will only grant such orders if there's evidence a crime had taken place.

"It's fantastic if the new law opens up the door for quick access to this [data]. We can help find missing people, make sure they are safe and return them to their families," said Sgt. Reno Rushford, who heads the missing persons unit of the Ottawa Police Service.

Rushford said in the past, social media companies and cellphone providers have voluntarily turned over the records of missing people, but financial institutions have been reluctant. 

Read more: Police, shelter welcome new powers to track missing women