Police Records Checks – We Can Do Better
There is no doubt that the costs and timeframes required for conducting police records checks in many places across Ontario are unacceptable. Nonprofit and charitable organizations, along with students, employees and employers are being put in an untenable situation of waiting weeks and months for checks to be completed, in order to ensure a safe environment for those that are the most vulnerable in our communities.
Now is the time for a province-wide solution to this issue. Although there are voluntary guidelines for police services related to police records checks (called the LEARN guidelines), each police service across Ontario has unique processes, costs, timelines and systems for managing the records check process.
Recently, as part of the Ontario Government’s Open for Business strategy, ONN, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, and the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration created a document outlining the provincial legislative and regulatory requirements for police records checks for volunteers. And surprisingly, there are few legal requirements (one notable exception is the Long Term Act). The majority of requirements for checks are imposed by individual organizations as part of their own policy and risk management systems.
Police records checks and vulnerable sector checks are critical to protect our children, our seniors and people with disabilities, for example. But they may not be necessary in many of the situations where they’re currently being requested. Nonprofit and charitable organizations need to re-evaluate why police records checks are needed in the first place, and what other mechanisms could be put in place to ensure community safety. Each organization needs to assess the risks associated with each volunteer role and develop their screening practices accordingly- a records check is only one step of a larger process.
Increasing the fees and using a tiered-cost approach is not the solution- it will only speed up the process for those that can actually afford the additional costs and will instead put many smaller community-based organizations at risk.
A province-wide strategy with evidence-based approaches for the hows and whys would ensure a safe system for all Ontarians. We can do better.
About the author
Cathy Taylor is the Executive Director of the Ontario Nonprofit Network.