Decision involving HRLSC client results in improved polices and procedures for persons with diabetes in police custody

In Powell v. Ontario (Solicitor General), 2023 HRTO 345, the HRLSC represented an applicant with Type 1 diabetes who alleged she had experienced discrimination during an interaction with police.

The HRTO Decision

On the evening of August 18, 2018, the applicant was taken into police custody as a result of a physical altercation with her then spouse, William Wright. Wright advised the police just before the applicant was taken into custody that she had diabetes. In addition, Wright brought the applicant’s insulin medication and glucose testing instruments to the police station a short time later, when he attended to provide a witness statement to police. Despite this, during her time in custody, the police made no inquiries of the applicant about her diabetes nor did the police offer her the use of her testing equipment or medication.

The HRTO found that the police had sufficient knowledge of the applicant’s disability that it had a duty to inquire as to whether the applicant needed access to her glucose monitor and insulin, stating that the applicant should have immediately been provided with an opportunity to check her blood sugar levels once the glucose monitor was provided by Wright. The failure to make any effort to determine the applicant’s medical status during her detention was found to be a breach of the respondent’s procedural duty to accommodate the applicant’s disability.

The Report:

To ensure future compliance with the Code, the HRTO ordered that the respondent must retain an external consultant to conduct a review of its policies, procedures and protocols related to the screening of individuals entering into custody, with particular focus on the treatment of persons with diabetes. The HRTO also awarded the applicant $2,000 in general damages.

Quotes from Report:

In February 2024, the external consultant, Gerry McNeilly, released his report entitled “Medical Accommodations for Persons with Diabetes Arrested and Held in Custody”. The key findings and recommendations from McNeilly’s report were:

  • Considering that diabetes is not a newly discovered medical condition and is, in fact, becoming more prevalent, officers should be aware of it, aware that individuals arrested and in custody may have diabetes and know the required approaches in dealing with treatment or the administering of medication.
  • It must also be acknowledged that the OPP is responsible for policing large and small communities across Ontario, including northern and very remote communities and communities that may have large Indigenous populations, where the prevalence of diabetes maybe more profound1. In my opinion, it is therefore more crucial that clear and details policies be created, and proper training be provided for officers in these detachment areas.
  • I also found there is a need to convey to officers, through policies and training, that not all medical issues are easily visible. This means officers must be highly vigilant and ask every arrested person about their medical issues, and not act or rely on their own perceptions, observations or assumptions of the person being arrested. Some individuals with diabetes may wear identifying medical bracelets or carry other identification that indicate their medical situations. However, not everyone does, so it is absolutely necessary that officers err on the side of caution by being specific in questioning about medical conditions.
  • A new policy on custody and prisoner care and control should include a duty to inquire about medical information for all arresting and custodial officers. This duty to inquire will go a long way to ensure the appropriate information is obtained and documented.
  • Develop policies (if possible) that address the problems that could occur if officers rely solely on their own assumptions or observations to draw conclusions about medical conditions of people being detained. Ensure that policies or direction include asking the individual about their medical condition.