N.L. Scouts leaders resign, protest group head suspension

Several long-time leaders of a local Scouts Canada branch in St. John's have resigned their posts, following the suspension of their group commissioner by the organization.

Fellow volunteers say Scouts Canada not open to discussing troop's concerns over screenings

Elizabeth Jenkins says volunteers with the local troop simply aren't trained enough to be responsible for flagging potential threats. (CBC)

Several long-time leaders of a local Scouts Canada branch in St. John's have resigned their posts, following the suspension of their group commissioner by the organization.

Last week, Peter Hatcher was suspended from the Mary Queen of Peace troop because he wasn't complying with Scouts Canada screening policies for volunteers.

However, fellow leaders with the troop said the disciplinary action was too severe.

Elizabeth Jenkins, who has volunteered with The Mary Queen of Peace troop for around 15 years, said she has resigned her role as group registrar in protest of Hatcher's suspension.

Anyone looking to volunteer with Scouts Canada must go through a number of checkpoints, including police screening, reference checks, an online training course and an in-person interview.

Specifically, the in-person interviews weren't being conducted with potential volunteers, but Jenkins said that doesn't mean there wasn't adequate screening being done.

"There's no denial that the interviews that he's accused of not doing and signing off on — there are grounds for that," she said.

"However, within Mary Queen of Peace we feel that a lot of the screening practices that we have are actually much better and exceed the Scouts Canada screening policy."

'Red flagging' potential threats

Jenkins said the group would allow potential volunteers to work with the Scouts group, alongside other serving volunteers, who would then report back to leaders about whether or not the applicant seemed suitable.

She said members of the group have always expressed concern with the expectation of conducting the kind of interview required.

"Mary Queen of Peace has always had a problem with the interview screening, primarily because we feel that somebody that is clinically trained is the person who should be doing this, because none of us have any idea on how to red flag a potential child molester, pedophile, whatever," Jenkins said.
Rick Hibbs says he thinks Scouts Canada is simply making an example out of the Mary Queen of Peace troop commissioner, Peter Hatcher. (CBC)

Rick Hibbs, who resigned his role as secretary of the group committee for the Mary Queen of Peace troop, said he thinks Scouts Canada is making an example out of Hatcher.

"There was an opportunity here for Scouts Canada and the local scouting in Newfoundland to learn from what we were doing," Hibbs said.

"We were trying to make something work that made sense to us, and instead of having a dialogue with us they simply, essentially, excommunicated our commissioner."

National standards clear

But Scouts Canada maintains that all groups must comply with their national standard, and there is no room for exceptions.

Darren Stratton, council commissioner with the organization in Newfoundland and Labrador, said it isn't up to individual troops to determine the process.
Volunteers with Scouts Canada in St. John's say they have still been screening volunteers appropriately, but the organization says national standards aren't negotiable. (CBC)

"The policy is quite clear, it's a national policy. All of those steps have to be completed before a prospective volunteer is allowed to participate in Scouting activities," he said.

"Just like any job, you go through an interview first."

Jenkins said there is also some concern within the troop that changing the process for conducting reference checks from over the phone to email left room for potential fraud.

But Stratton said that's simply not the case.

"My understanding is that they're pretty much the same questions that would have been asked over the phone," he said.

"The benefit though of having backcheck is you have a consistent approach, the responses are coming back on a timely basis, [and] they're more objective because you don't have a local person doing the contacts."

A national Scouts Canada board will be reviewing Hatcher's suspension in the next few weeks to decide if he will be allowed to stay on with the organization.

The Mary Queen of Peace troop still exists, but there are fewer volunteers, and some parents fear the future of the group may be in jeopardy.