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Police, partners to decide who should be on the hook for cost of volunteer background checks

'We don’t want people to not volunteer because they can’t afford a police records check,' says head of People's Information Network
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Who should cover the cost associated with background checks for people who want to volunteer in the community?

That question will be considered during a dialogue to be held next month between the Guelph Police, The People and Information Network and the organizations who rely on volunteers in positions of trust. The Guelph Police Service has budgeted to cover the costs of some background checks for volunteers who work with vulnerable people, including children, for the year 2020. After the end of next year it hopes to have a solution that doesn’t put the burden of the cost of the checks solely on the police service.

“Twenty years ago we didn’t have to go through volunteer checks,” said Don Drone, chair of the Guelph Police Services Board. “But now as a coach for any organized sport, (you) have to go through it — for good reason.”

Although each records check costs $40, the number of checks done every year adds up. Drone said over $70,000 is budgeted for the year 2020 to cover the checks authorized by The People and Information Network.

“That is a significant hit to us,” said Drone. “We are not funded by the government to do this, it’s just one of those things where doing the right things costs money.”

Covering the cost of the checks takes the financial burden off the person who wants to volunteer in the community. Drone said the police service would like to see those costs spread out between the volunteers, organizations who need them and possibly the police.

“It’s taking the economic hit off of the individual volunteer,” he said.

The People and Information Network in Guelph acts as a clearing house of sorts for people looking to volunteer and organizations looking for volunteers. Executive director Christine Oldfield the agency works with organizations to find the best possible volunteers to match their needs.

That often includes background checks for volunteers who will deal with vulnerable people, including children.

Currently, people registered to volunteer for organizations through PIN have their background checks covered by Guelph Police, but the police service has made it clear it no longer intends on covering the full cost of those checks past 2020.

“Right now it’s the Guelph police service absorbing all of the cost of that,” said Oldfield of the records checks. “It has become clear that it isn’t sustainable in the long term.”

The police service would like to see a compromise, in which the costs of doing the checks are spread out and shared among several players, said Drone.

“The volunteer who we respect is giving up their time and energy to do these things, we don’t want them to absorb the total cost for it,” said Drone. “Maybe the organization for whom they are volunteering will pay a little bit, PIN would pay a little bit.”

“We don’t want people to not volunteer because they can’t afford a police records check,” said Oldfield.

The requirement for a person to receive a vulnerable sector check — the most exhaustive of the three levels of checks — can also be an invasion of privacy, said Oldfield.

A vulnerable sector check includes reporting on criminal convictions, absolute and conditional discharges, as well as Youth Criminal Justice Act findings of guilt in some situations. The check may also include a person having their fingerprints taken.

“We are also trying to create a culture where people think about theirs of a police records check, because there is a financial burden and an invasion of privacy that happens when you get a police records check,” said Oldfield. “We don’t think that decision to require someone to get a police records check should be taken lightly.”

In the summer, the Senate released a report on the charitable sector, with one of its recommendations requesting the Government of Canada to work with partners to find ways to alleviate the financial burden on low-budget organizations for needed police checks on volunteers.

“There is an acknowledgement that for a volunteer or organization to have to pay for a police records check is barrier to volunteering ,” said Oldfield.

Some organizations rely on vulnerable records checks without first interviewing the prospective volunteer or requesting and calling references. That’s one of the reasons why PIN developed its Best Match program, to ensure appropriate volunteer screening policies and practices are in place in organizations that serve vulnerable populations.

“We want there to be good volunteer matches, thats why we call the program ‘Best Match.’ Sometimes that best match will require a police records check, because that volunteer is working with a vulnerable person in a position of trust or dependence,” said Oldfield.

In February, representatives from PIN will meet with Guelph Police and organizations that work with volunteers or employees who are in a position of trust or authority over vulnerable persons to determine a way forward.

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Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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