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LIII LE-026 – Missing Persons




Police Services Act, R.S.O. 1990, c.P.15, as amended, s. 31(1)(c).

Adequacy & Effectiveness of Police Services, O. Reg. 3/99, s. 12(1)(l).

Guiding Principles

Missing persons investigations present a unique challenge for investigators, which warrant assigning them a high priority and require close collaboration with the families, loved ones and communities from which the missing person originates. The complexity of missing persons investigations flows from several realities, which have been highlighted by the Hon. Gloria Epstein in the Report of the Independent Civilian Review into Missing Person Investigations:

  • marginalized and vulnerable communities have been negatively impacted by the investigative response to missing persons, giving rise to unique investigative challenges, including the need for particular competencies and compassionate approaches to investigating these incidents, with awareness of the systemic issues that have contributed to a lack of trust in police;
  • missing persons incidents are inherently ambiguous, which opens an opportunity for bias in the assessment of risk of some incidents, particularly those involving individuals from underprivileged communities;
  • missing persons themselves at times do not wish to be found, posing additional challenges in the investigation of these incidents;
  • the missing persons’ loved ones or close contacts themselves are in a precarious position that requires particular care and supports as they await news of their loved ones’ whereabouts and fate; and,
  • maximizing investigative efficacy and positive outcomes for missing persons requires a close, collaborative relationship with communities, who should become partners to the full and effective investigation of those that have gone missing.

Purpose of Policy

The Board is committed to ensuring, in line with the recommendations of the Independent Civilian Review into Missing Person Investigations, that the Service prioritize the safety and well-being of missing persons, while recognizing the important role of social services, public health, and community agencies in these cases, and the unique needs of the loved ones of missing persons during an on-going investigation.

It is, therefore, the policy of the Toronto Police Services Board that the Chief of Police will develop and maintain procedures, processes and training for undertaking and managing investigations into missing persons that align with the provincial standards with regards to missing persons and Major Case Management, and implement the recommendations made by the Independent Civilian Review into Missing Person Investigations and, in particular:

Missing Person Investigations

  1. Set out the steps to be followed for undertaking investigations into reports of missing persons, including situations involving children, teenagers and elders and vulnerable adults;
  2. Ensure that all investigations into reports of missing persons comply with the procedures set out in the Ministry’s designated Ontario Major Case Management Manual;
  3. Ensure a dedicated Missing Persons Unit is trained, maintained and staffed so as to ensure the effective investigation of all missing persons reports in a timely manner, as well as facilitating access to appropriate supports to individuals impacted by the missing person’s disappearance;
  4. Establish processes with community groups and leaders for community partnership, engagement in missing person investigations, and information sharing, so as to ensure that missing persons investigators are aware of existing community resources that can advance their missing person investigations in a manner that enhances trust and partnership in positive community safety outcomes;
  5. Establish processes with the Service’s Neighbourhood Community Officers and liaison officers to enable them to support missing persons investigations through their unique knowledge of the affected communities, its residents, business and local organizations;
  6. Ensure that those involved in a missing persons investigation use, where appropriate, a trauma-informed approach when interacting with individuals affected by the disappearance of a missing person;
  7. Ensure that all physical searches for missing persons, or canvassing for witnesses or relevant evidence, be conducted in a comprehensive, systematic and coordinated way, and in a manner that complies with any internationally-accepted best practice for these types of efforts;
  8. Ensure that information shared with members of the public does not include any personal health information, or any information not necessary for the purpose of assisting in identifying or locating the missing person;
  9. Develop, in partnership with the Office of the Chief Coroner and the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service, protocols on addressing unidentified bodily remains that is victim-focused, compassionate and preserves the integrity of an ongoing investigation;
  10. Ensure investigative follow-up on outstanding cases with those affected, including family members and other close contacts that have made themselves available through the course of the investigation;

Response Assessment

  1. Ensure that all Members who respond to missing persons incidents receive training in conducting effective risk assessments, including by using examples of scenarios to illustrate elevated or reduced risk levels;
  2. Ensure that missing person incidents are responded to promptly in order to gather information and identify the presence or absence of risk factors and/or harm indicators that may influence the police response;
  3. Where circumstances indicate a strong possibility of foul play, or where police have yet to ascertain whether foul play is involved when the individual remains outstanding and unaccounted for 30 days after being reported missing, require officers to comply with the procedures set out in the Ministry’s designated Ontario Major Case Management Manual;
  4. Ensure that the definition of “strong possibility of foul play” as it applies to determination of Major Case Management threshold cases, and strategies to determine its existence are clearly understood and consistently implemented by investigators;
  5. Ensure that other risk factors, outside of direct risks of foul play, are considered in determining a response to a missing person incident, including:
    1. the disproportionate likelihood of members of some vulnerable communities to be victimized;
    2. concerns raised by those reporting a missed person or impacted by their disappearance; and
    3. patterns of disappearances in the community;
  6. Ensure that training, awareness and other steps are taken to prevent stereotypical assumptions or misconceptions about certain communities, lifestyles or personal identifiers from influencing of the response to missing persons incidents;
  7. Ensure that response strategies re-evaluated on a regular basis over the course of an investigation, and adjusted accordingly;
  8. Support continuing research on risk assessment and response strategies, including the creation of predictive models, based in part on disaggregated data collection by the Service;

Missing Children and Youth Investigations

  1. Ensure an AMBER ALERT activation is considered in all missing children investigations, and Major Case Management is implemented in all cases involving AMBER ALERT activation;
  2. Develop and implement an approach to cases involving youth in group homes, shelters, and other youth-focused institutions, so as to proactively reduce the number of youth who go missing from such institutions, including by:
    1. engaging with social services, public health and community agencies to collaborate in addressing and raising awareness about issues causing youth departures;
    2. implementing approaches to help ensure the youth’s safety when away from their home or institution; and,
    3. appropriately triaging such cases;

Social Supports

  1. Form partnerships with the City of Toronto, provincial and federal governments, and public health, social services and community agencies and organizations, with the purpose of providing support and assistance to those directly affected by a missing person’s disappearance;
  2. Ensure that the lead investigator on a missing person incident:
    1. maintain regular contact with any involved agencies and organizations;
    2. provide information on the ongoing investigation to those directly affected by the missing person’s disappearance, while respecting the privacy requests of the person reported missing, and ensuring that any ongoing criminal investigation is not jeopardized; and,
    3. maintain a record of any support offered to those directly affected by the missing person’s disappearance;
  3. Ensure that, where relevant, individuals directly affected by a missing person’s disappearance are advised of details pertaining to the investigation prior to their release to the media, and are consulted on any information or photos released to the media, unless such steps would jeopardize the investigation;

Public Awareness and Engagement

  1. Develop and implement tools, including a public-facing website, Missing Person Awareness Days and other communication and awareness-raising strategies, to educate the public concerning the Service’s approach to missing person investigations, how to report missing persons, how to obtain information about missing persons and missing person investigations, and other pertinent information;
  2. Ensure that information pertaining to missing persons is removed from any Service-operated publicly-accessible website once the incident is resolved; and


  1. Report to the Board annually on:
    1. the number of missing person reports filed during the reporting period, including the number of reports concerning children, teenagers, older persons and vulnerable adults;
    2. a breakdown of missing person incidents in (a) by harm indicators and vulnerability factors;
    3. the number of missing person incidents in (a) and in (b) that were resolved within thirty (30) days, more than thirty (30) days, or remain unresolved; and
    4. a breakdown of resolved cases in (a) and in (b) by outcome.

adequacy standards, law enforcement, investigation of crimes