Nova Scotia

Halifax urged to waive breakfast program volunteers' fees for criminal record checks

Nourish Nova Scotia, which runs breakfast programs at provincial schools, is urging Halifax regional municipality to waive its $30 fee for criminal background checks for its volunteers.

Nourish Nova Scotia says $30 fee charged to volunteers makes it hard to staff breakfast programs

Food programs at schools provide the meals for students who sometimes wouldn't have enough to eat. Nourish Nova Scotia is struggling to find enough people to volunteer at its breakfast programs. (The Associated Press)

Nourish Nova Scotia, which runs breakfast programs at provincial schools, is urging the Halifax Regional Municipality to waive its $30 fee for criminal background checks for its volunteers.

The program is struggling to get enough volunteers to operate the program, especially in rural schools, said its executive director Margo Riebe.

The places where people can least afford the fees are also the places where school breakfast programs are most needed, she said.

"In some communities where the poverty rates are high and household food insecurity is high, there is no money for a background check. And so there are not parent volunteers in many of those schools because it's a barrier. It's a real barrier."

The barrier also affects volunteer numbers for sports programs and other extracurricular activities, she said.

"You need to have them visible in the school and they're often not able to afford it."

Riebe hopes she can find a councillor willing to support the request to have volunteer fees waived.

Criminal background checks are most commonly done for employment and volunteer positions. In Halifax, it costs $50 for employment reasons and $30 for volunteers. (Erik White/CBC)

"We've actually started work on that in the last month, just trying to construct a plea ... and trying to get some letters of support to rally and then try to find a councillor that might make the case for it."

She fears the request may fall on deaf ears because the fees are revenue generators.

"I don't expect that they'll waive it for [everyone] because I recognize that it's a revenue generator, but we're going to ask them to waive it for schools, " Riebe said.

Cape Breton Regional Municipality and Truro waive the cost for background checks for volunteers, if the person provides a letter of confirmation from a not-for-profit agency confirming the individual as a volunteer.

In January 2019, Halifax municipal staff provided figures for revenues generated when providing criminal background checks for both employment and volunteer positions.

For example, in 2017-2018, there were 7,496 students and volunteers who paid $30 for the checks, for a total of $195,547.83.

Eliminating the fees for volunteers would result in negative revenues, as the money paid by those seeking the checks for other reasons would not cover the loss, the table showed.

With files from Jean Laroche