N.W.T. MLAs review draft law that would expand RCMP powers on missing persons

The N.W.T. Legislative Assembly, where the Missing Persons Act was discussed in a committee meeting.   (Laura Busch/CBC - image credit)
The N.W.T. Legislative Assembly, where the Missing Persons Act was discussed in a committee meeting. (Laura Busch/CBC - image credit)

A committee of N.W.T. MLAs heard Monday what new legislation around missing persons could look like.

For years, people have been calling for the N.W.T. to create legislation that would expand RCMP powers to gather information when people go missing. Those calls grew louder after Frank Gruben disappeared last spring from Fort Smith.

In February, a draft law was tabled in the Legislative Assembly. On Monday, it was reviewed by the standing committee on social development.

The Missing Persons Act would allow RCMP, with court approval, to access many types of records, such as information found on cell phones and other electronic devices, but also records about school attendance, employment, personal health and finances.

In some urgent situations, the legislation would also allow RCMP to make emergency demands without having a court order.

"This legislation is intended to allow police to move quickly with their investigations when time can be of the essence," said Brad Patzer, assistant deputy minister with the Department of Justice. He gave a presentation about the bill to the committee.

Important for family, says MLA

Monfwi MLA Jane Weyallon Armstrong, who chairs the committee, highlighted the importance of this legislation given a number of outstanding missing persons cases in the N.W.T.

"It will benefit the family and friends out there," she said.

That comment was echoed by Premier R.J. Simpson, who is also the justice minister. Simpson attended the meeting to answer questions from committee members.

N.W.T. Premier R.J. Simpson.
N.W.T. Premier R.J. Simpson.

N.W.T. Premier R.J. Simpson, who is also the justice minister, answered questions from MLAs Monday on draft legislation for missing persons. (Jenna Dulewich/CBC)

Simpson said though this legislation would be N.W.T.-specific, RCMP can collaborate with police in other parts of Canada if their search extends beyond the territory.

"There could be sharing of information between jurisdictions, given that people do cross borders," he said.

He added the legislation can't be used to compel other countries to provide information, if the search goes that far.


Patzer said there are going to be limitations on what can be included in an emergency demand situation to help protect privacy. For example, in an emergency demand, RCMP can't obtain any health records except for whether a missing person was recently admitted to a hospital, and details around when and where they were admitted along with the reason for admission.

More detailed medical records would require the RCMP to apply for a court order.

Patzer said this would allow oversight as to whether access to these records is necessary.

Patzer also said there would be a number of factors taken into consideration when granting access to records. That includes a requirement that the public interest outweighs the privacy interest of the person whose records are being accessed.

He said consideration must also be given as to whether a missing person actually wants to be found, and people can be fleeing from violent or abusive situations.

"We wanted to ensure the legislation is not used as a tool for abusers to locate individuals," he said.

Patzer says this will not stop the RCMP from making a demand or stop the court from issuing an order — but will cause the RCMP and court to consider all possibilities regarding a person's disappearance, including them potentially not wanting to be found.

Another public briefing on this bill is scheduled for April 4. At that time, the committee expects to hear from RCMP Supt. Dyson Smith.