The City of Vancouver says it won't be conducting routine criminal records checks on all employees, but is reviewing its hiring practices after learning that a member of the Hells Angels was hired as a garbage collector in May.
Court records show that the man hired by the city had been convicted of drugs, weapons and assault offences and, in 2005, was nabbed during a massive investigation that saw police raid Hells Angels clubhouses in Kelowna and Vancouver.
He was hired as a seasonal trash collector in Vancouver in May, but city manager Penny Ballem said staff did not do a criminal record check at the time, noting the city is a huge employer and sanitation workers have no contact with children or vulnerable adults.
Ballem said the city will take the case as an opportunity to once again, look at how it hires.
'No organization wants to have people with active links to organized crime working for them. We take that very seriously...'—Penny Ballem, city manager
"People do their time and I think generally, society feels it's better if people who have been in trouble with the law serve their time and sentence (and) actually are able to live productive lives and make a contribution," she said.
"However, organized crime is a different ball game. No organization wants to have people with active links to organized crime working for them. We take that very seriously and we will be working with the police and other experts to say 'OK. What are the best practices and approaches?"'
Code protects ex-cons
B.C.'s human rights code does not allow employers to discriminate against people with criminal records unless the employer can prove the discrimination is justified. So, for example, an employer is justified in not hiring a sex offender as a custodian at a school or for not hiring someone convicted of fraud to work in a bank.
"Criminal or summary conviction is a protected ground under only the area of employment," said Srdjan Rajbah, of the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.
"So you can refuse to rent to someone because they have a criminal conviction, you can refuse to offer services to someone if they have a criminal conviction. All the other grounds, you're allowed to discriminate on the basis of that except employment."
Rajbah said it is routine for municipal or provincial governments to do criminal records checks on potential employees. But unless they can find a justifiable reason, the information can't be used against a job applicant.
Human rights lawyer Elizabeth Reid said the onus on an employer to determine whether a person's conviction is related to the job they are applying for is not small.
"They can't make assumptions about this — they have to examine the facts very carefully," she said.
So the nature of the conviction must be weighed against what duties the job entails, whether the applicant will be interacting with a vulnerable population, how closely the person will be supervised, among other things. As well, the time lapse since the conviction and the age of the applicant at the time of the charge must also be considered.
As a result, Reid said some employers, including the city, may not find it worthwhile to do an exhaustive check. She said it would be an open question whether an employer has a justifiable requirement to ensure garbage collectors don't have criminal convictions.
"(Employers) can ask for the criminal record check. But if they say 'if anything turns up on the criminal record check, you're out,' then that would be discriminatory," she said.
"My general advice to employers is, unless you're in some kind of sensitive position, you may not want to ask those questions because as soon as you ask the questions, you might be facing a discrimination complaint."
Reid also noted Canada has a general principle of recognizing that once someone has served time in prison, they have paid their debt to society and should be able to resume their lives.
A spokesman for the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents sanitation workers in Vancouver, declined comment on the case.
"If the city is going to change its hiring practices, then that's a discussion that would obviously have to take place with the union with whatever other internal procedures the city has to go through," said Clay Suddaby.
"If and when that conversation happens, we'll obviously participate."