Justice Minister Shirley Bond moved to solve half a problem on Thursday.
It’s the part she didn’t touch that has critics continuing to worry about pedophiles and other nasty types evading detection when her ministry does criminal records checks.
Critics say the B.C. ministry isn’t doing the kind of checks that have red-flagged more than 300 sex offenders elsewhere in Canada since July 2010.
They also say a massive data-entry backlog in Ottawa means more than 400,000 convictions won’t show up in a basic search of criminal records.
Bond introduced amendments Thursday that would drop the $20 fee the ministry charges when doing background checks on volunteers who work with children and vulnerable adults.
The changes would also let non-profit organizations, with the applicant’s consent, share the applicant’s information.
It means someone who volunteers with several groups will no longer need to jump through the same hoops for each one.
That’s common-sense stuff, plowing through the kind of roadblocks that discourage ordinary people from coaching hockey or helping in a care home or whatever.
The thing is, would-be volunteers in Greater Victoria already have the option of having their background checks done for free by the police, as opposed to the ministry.
In fact, starting last May, umbrella agencies for B.C. non-profit groups advised their members to choose the police option, largely because the cops delve into corners that the ministry does not.
One of those umbrella groups, Volunteer Victoria, reiterated its position Thursday, saying it strongly recommends its agencies opt for the more extensive checks done by the police. A spokeswoman said the organization was glad to see Bond cut through administrative barriers to volunteering, but still worries that the ministry’s vetting process doesn’t dig deep enough.
“The scope is a huge concern,” Lori Elder said.
At issue is B.C.’s Criminal Records Review Program, which applies to people who work around children or vulnerable adults in publicly funded or regulated organizations: schools, daycares, hospitals and so on.
The Justice Ministry runs those people through a B.C. Corrections database and another operated by the Canadian Police Information Centre, which is supposed to reveal whether someone has been convicted of a serious crime anywhere in Canada.
But last September, RCMP headquarters in Ottawa acknowledged that CPIC had 433,000 fingerprint files still waiting to be entered in the system, meaning it could be years before a would-be volunteer’s criminal past comes to light.
That information gap is why police — though not the ministry — routinely check sources such as PRIME, the information-sharing system used by all B.C. police forces. PRIME has more up-to-date records that reveal convictions not recorded by CPIC. It will also show if a person has had “negative contact” with police or is currently under investigation for a crime.
There’s also a “vulnerable-sector screen,” designed to detect the approximately 15,000 convicted Canadian sex offenders who have received pardons and whose identities are held in a separate CPIC databank.
The checks are done by the RCMP, which for the past couple of years has depended on the expanded use of fingerprinting to catch pardoned sex offenders who have changed their names to avoid detection. In September, the RCMP said those fingerprint checks had resulted in 312 people being red-flagged across Canada since July 1, 2010. That doesn’t count those people who abandoned the process after learning they would have to submit fingerprints.
The problem is that the vulnerable-sector checks are time-consuming, taking up to eight weeks to complete, in some cases. After the RCMP widened its net in 2010, the proportion of applicants requiring fingerprinting jumped from one in 3,750 to one in 10. That translated to 20,000 people a year in B.C. Non-profit groups complained the rigmarole was driving away volunteers.
So the Justice Ministry — though not the police — suspended the fingerprinting requirement, arguing that the province has other safeguards that ensure a B.C. resident can’t escape his criminal past simply by changing his name.
Bond praised the ministry’s system on Thursday, noting that it also provides non-profit agencies with a consistent risk assessment of each applicant.
Others still see flaws.
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