Canada

Stiffer RCMP security checks cause delays

The RCMP says it has closed a loophole in security checks Canadians undergo before working with children, the elderly and other vulnerable people. But the new fingerprint process takes longer, costs more and is making more work for local police forces.

The RCMP says it has closed a loophole in security checks Canadians undergo before working with children, the elderly and other vulnerable people. But the new fingerprint process takes longer, costs more and is making more work for local police forces across Canada.

Security checks used to be based on the person's name. When news broke that convicted sex offender and hockey coach Graham James had been pardoned, the RCMP examined whether its screening process would catch a pardoned sexual offender who had changed his or her name.

The Mounties said they found a gap, requiring a more rigorous system.

"Our mandate is to maintain public safety and ultimately we want to ensure that people that are placed in positions when they're in the care of vulnerable individuals are the correct people," says Robert Murray who manages the RCMP's civil fingerprint screening services.

The new process requires local police to compare birth dates with a registry of convicted criminals. If there's a match, police will fingerprint the applicant and mail the fingerprints off to the RCMP for cross-reference.

Brett Newman of Oakville, Ont., went through a security check last week for his new part-time job at a health-care agency. But within hours of submitting the paperwork, the police phoned to tell him the RCMP wanted his fingerprints.

That's because he shares a birthday with a convicted criminal.

Higher cost

"She told me that I would have to pay a $25 fee to have the fingerprint screening done on top of the $30 that I had already paid for the police check," says Newman.

"I don't see why I would have to pay twice for the same service. Either I would have a police check done at Halton regional headquarters and that would come back clean or I would pay for the fingerprint screening for the RCMP, but not both. I don't think that's very fair."

Newman had to wait a week to get his prints taken in Oakville. It'll take a few more weeks for the results to come back, which moves back the start date for Newman's new job.

The RCMP says its goal is to complete all security checks within 120 days.

"We recognize that this was going to be a situation that was going to impact a lot of individuals because as opposed to querying a name, the date of birth would be used as a subsequent query," says Murray, adding that fingerprint checks are simply more reliable than names, which can be changed.

But the longer processing time worries organizations such as Scouts Canada, which is set to process 25,000 volunteers this fall.

"If we have volunteers that have to sit on the sidelines for two months, that really affects our abilities to deliver amazing programs to kids and that is my primary concern at this point in time," says Stephen Kent, chief commissioner of Scouts Canada.

The RCMP's Murray concedes the new system is also straining local police forces. For example, Ottawa city police received 10 times more requests for fingerprints this week alone.

With files from Alison Crawford