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Standard police check might include fingerprinting for volunteers


Working with society's most vulnerable might mean another hurdle for community volunteers.

Along with getting a standard criminal record check to volunteer with children, they might have to be fingerprinted, and for a $20 fee.

But the RCMP's decision to add fingerprinting won't affect everyone.

Fingerprints will only be necessary if a volunteer is put through a vulnerable sector screening process, and if their gender and birth date match those of someone on the sex offender registry.

Fingerprinting will allow police to clear the volunteer's name of being that other person.

One local volunteer group believes this won't be a deterrent for those looking to volunteer.

"I don't see it being one. My understanding is they'll only need fingerprints if something is flagged in their record," said Julie Ross, president of the Barrie Association of Volunteer Administrators (BAVA). "And if something suspicious is found on their record check, we as volunteer managers want to know that. Especially if they're applying to volunteer in the vulnerable sector."

Ross said police checks aren't always required for BAVA volunteers, so the chances of this affecting them are even slimmer.

"It depends on the organization they're applying to and what the position is," she said. "We don't always ask for police checks, especially if it's just for one-day or weekend event positions. But for vulnerable clients, it's needed."

RCMP Sgt. Greg Cox explained the change was made because if someone with a criminal record obtains a legal name change, they are not required to report that. So, their new name would not show up on a vulnerable sector record check.

"There was an immediate change notice to fill that gap," Cox said. "That's why a date of birth is required. You can't change your date of birth.

"The fingerprints of sexual offenders - even if they have been given a pardon - are still in the system and would match," he added.

The process doesn't have Barrie Minor Hockey Association officials worried, either.

"We really won't have an issue with this," said Jill Robertson, the association's business manager. "We have a three-or four-year window with police checks on our volunteers. There is a very small number of our people who would need to renew their checks this year.

"Our rep coaches all get picked in January and February, and they all know to get their police checks done months before," she added.

But not everyone is so optimistic.

Mike Drinkle, president of the Midland Minor Hockey Association, says the new policy is making it hard to recruit coaches, "because people don't want to go through having to provide their fingerprints.

"Some people are having to coach more than one team because they don't want to see kids unable to play hockey," he added.

Drinkle says the practice of getting a screening has been in place for years, but now if something pops up, you have to give your fingerprints.

"It may not be anything more than you were in a fight years ago and got charged. It's embarrassing. Some people just don't want to go through this."

He says he knows of two cases where people just didn't pursue becoming coaches.

MMHA coaches must have the check done every three years, and Drinkle wants to see police create a method to allow people to coach while their application is reviewed.

"I understand that teachers - once cleared - only have to sign an affidavit every so often."

People wishing to dispute the results have to provide their fingerprints for verification and may have to wait up to 120 days for the results of a more exhaustive search.

That's because now every Canadian police department must send the prints to one place.

"We are doing our best to process things in under 120 days, because vulnerable sector checks are a high priority," Cox said. "It is all being done to ensure the protection of those who might be vulnerable."

OPP constable Peter Leon said, in the past, all a volunteer needed was a note from an organization saying they would be responsible for children.

"Their name was put through the vulnerable sector screening process and, if nothing registered, they had a report back in no time," he said. "Now they have to include their date of birth and, if a match comes up, the RCMP requires fingerprints. It appears the days of handing in the paperwork Monday and getting a response two weeks later are gone."

Shelley Cozac, executive assistant with the Midland police, says the change is affecting all volunteers working with vulnerable people.

"It's also proving troublesome for students whose courses involve placements in places like nursing homes, day care facilities and hospitals - anywhere they come in contact with vulnerable people," she said.

Drinkle says the association appreciates the need for the police checks to protect children. "The well-being of the children is always a concern for us. But this new policy could deter a lot of people from volunteering.

"There are a lot of smart people in policing. They should be able to come out with an idea to help an organization operate by creating a document people could sign that would help us to function."

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