Long wait for police records frustrating, says Ottawa man

Efrem Berhe says he missed out on a much-needed part-time job this summer because it took nearly two months to get a records check from the Ottawa Police Service.

University grad Efrem Berhe wanted to drive for Uber to make ends meet this summer, but couldn't

Recent university graduate Efrem Berhe says it took nearly two months to get an appointment with Ottawa police for a records check so he could work part-time as an Uber driver. (Submitted by Efrem Berhe)

An Ottawa man says he missed out on a much-needed part-time job this summer because it took nearly two months to get a records check from the Ottawa Police Service.

Efrem Berhe said he was offered a federal government job after graduating with a master's degree in April, but knew the security clearance would likely take months due to his extensive travel history. To make ends meet while he waited, he decided to do some part-time work.

Berhe, who graduated from Western University with a degree in management and a specialty in international business, launched a startup providing career consulting to young people, but after a few months found it wasn't bringing in enough money.

"So I decided to do Uber on the side," Berhe said.

Beyond the financial, I think the [mental] stress was, I guess, harsher.- Efrem Berhe

Uber requires its Ottawa drivers to complete a one-time vulnerable sector check with local police — the same check required of anyone looking to work or volunteer in a position of authority, including prospective camp counsellors, doctors, school bus operators and taxi drivers.

Berhe said he applied for his records online on Aug. 1. After weeks of waiting to get an in-person appointment to verify his ID, and after a call to his city councillor, Berhe finally got his check on Friday.

"It took me two months … to get my appointment. But it only took me less than five minutes to verify my ID — which I showed them through the glass windows," he said. "It was very frustrating." 

Berhe said he managed to get by financially with his startup and the Canada emergency response benefit, or CERB.

"Beyond the financial, I think the [mental] stress was, I guess, harsher," he said. "The stress of not being able to do something … especially having to wait to get services, I think was more frustrating."

Ottawa police blamed the long wait times for records checks on reduced 'lobby capacity' at their Elgin Street headquarters during the pandemic. (Radio-Canada)

The Ottawa police website states that the service is currently scheduling appointments for online applications received in early May.

When asked in early September about the delay, an Ottawa police spokesperson said in an email it was due to the station's "lobby capacity" and the need to comply with health regulations during the pandemic.

"We are scheduling appointments to minimize the number of people that would attend as 'walk-in.' This also prevents long wait times," wrote the spokesperson.

In an email Monday, Ottawa police said "some in-person services have resumed in June, but records checks remain a service online and by appointment only."

Berhe said Tuesday he's still waiting on his security clearance to begin his government job, which he hopes will happen "in the coming weeks."

OPP wait times 4-6 weeks

People living in regions outside Ottawa can get their records checked by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), who state on their website that wait times are four to six weeks.

The service is also verifying IDs in person, after people apply for their checks online, OPP Const. Lori Lobinowich said Tuesday.

"It's changed but it hasn't changed," Lobinowich said, explaining that in the past, people had to go to their local detachment to start the process. Now, applicants are asked to go in person to verify their ID, only after the records check process is complete.

"We do have a delay as well. It's just in the processing," she said.

With files from Ash Abraham and Alan Neal

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