Canada

Agencies complain about background check delays

Ottawa volunteer agencies are warning activities for children and seniors may have to be scaled back due to new criminal background check procedures.

Ottawa volunteer agencies are warning activities for children and seniors may have to be scaled back due to new criminal background check procedures.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police brought in the strict requirements in 2009 for volunteers who do anything from helping coach children's hockey to working in nursing homes. The Mounties now require any volunteer who shares the same birthday and gender as someone in the RCMP's criminal database — thousands of volunteers in Ottawa alone — to be fingerprinted.

For Barry Hardacker, executive director for Scouts Canada in Eastern Ontario, the checks mean a volunteer shortage that may mean some kids will be turned aside.

"Some kids may not get a chance to join until we have enough adults to serve them properly and deliver the program we promise," Hardacker said, adding his area alone manages around 4,000 adult leaders.

Hardacker said he knows of at least six leaders who have been waiting months for clearance. Every leader, he said, must pass the screening.

"We try everything possible not to turn kids away from scouting ... that's for sure."

Will Coukell is the executive director of Volunteer Ottawa, an organization that matches the city's estimated 38,000 volunteers with local non-profit groups. He said he's heard of checks taking as long as three months, and he said he's also worried they may scare off the type of people who make the city's best volunteers.

"If you're a new Canadian or a youth, I don't think you're going to be too anxious to walk into a police station and ask them to fingerprint you," said Coukell.

"A lot of our member agencies are concerned about that because a lot of them rely on new Canadians or youth who are people who tend to have a lot of free time or are maybe looking for something to put on their resume."

Coukell said because of the checks, organizations will have to work harder to find volunteers.

Delay at RCMP level: Ottawa police

Ottawa police Chief Vern White said his force has been keeping up with processing the fingerprint requests, which have jumped from about three to 70 requests per week. But White he said there is a bottleneck at the RCMP level, where the prints are checked.

"We're telling people it could take up to months, because the actual process is being bogged down or bottlenecked with RCMP, not us," White said.

While it's slow going, White said the more stringent checks are a good thing.

"This will ensure a higher level of integrity when it comes to background checks," he said.

Volunteer agencies and Ottawa police are now holding information sessions so volunteers are aware of the requirements.