by Rachel Everett-Fry, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Ashley Feher of Kemptville is demanding a public apology from police after being publicly “named and shamed.” Ashley was charged with mischief under $5,000 after the Grenville County Detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) received a report that the new Pride crosswalk in downtown Kemptville had been defaced. On the evening of June 8, a witness reported to police that a female driving a pickup truck was intentionally spinning her tires on the crosswalk. Shortly thereafter, the OPP shared Ashley’s name, age, and expected court date in a press release. Her name was then rapidly disseminated through various media sources.
On June 11, police released a second press release, stating that a secondary witness observed contradictory evidence. The police dropped the charges, and stated their investigation is ongoing. Ashley was not named in this press release; as a result, it seems, her name is still tainted. She continues to face harassment online and in the community. She feels it is unsafe for her and her children to stay in their own home.
With the support of her family and friends, Ashley protested in front of the Kemptville police office on Sunday, June 13. Their goal was to get, “a public apology from the police.” Ashley explained that she feels, “no conflict with LGBTQ community” and that had the police questioned her before charging her, they would have known that. Her mother Sylvia stated that, “what the police did was unjust. They should have done their investigation [before pressing charges]. As far as I’m concerned, it was sloppy work.” Ashley indicated that she may pursue legal action against the police, because she wants, “justice for what they did.” Her hope is that if police take the issue, “out of pocket”, they may think twice before naming a charged person in the future. She says she wants police to take this seriously, “and do the work before putting somebody out there, to make somebody’s life hell like mine has been.”
This incident, however, seems to be an exceptional example of a common practice. The OPP has the authority to name charged persons under the Police Services Act. In 1990, the Police Services Act was made Law in order to establish and govern policing duties and norms across Ontario. Since its inception, the Act has included a Regulation on the disclosure of personal information (under O.Reg 265/98). Though there are some exceptions, the Regulation establishes that a Chief of Police, or his or her designate, may disclose the personal information of any person charged with, convicted or found guilty of an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada or any other federal or provincial Act.
This is to say that it is up to the police to decide whether or not to disclose personal information. The Regulation grants them authority to do so should they choose, but in no way mandates it. In making the decision to disclose, the Regulation recommends that, “the Chief of Police or his or her designate shall consider the availability of resources and information, what is reasonable in the circumstances of the case, what is consistent with the law and the public interest, and what is necessary to ensure that the resolution of criminal proceedings is not delayed.” How, or if, these recommendations were considered in Ashley’s case remains unclear.
There are of course situations in which the disclosure of personal information may save lives. But it is perhaps time to revisit the Regulation, and consider the damage that its current form can have, indeed has had for Ashley, in small communities like ours.