Charging for criminal record checks seen as a barrier to volunteering

City council is in the midst of considering changes that would increase the fee for criminal record checks

Charging volunteers for criminal record checks will be a barrier and a deterrent to some who volunteer out of the goodness of their heart, according to the executive director of the city’s volunteer centre.

City council is in the midst of considering changes that would increase the fee for criminal record checks to $50 and implement a $25 administration fee for those who require criminal record checks for volunteer work. Currently, volunteers can have a criminal record check done for free at the RCMP station.

Louise Howes, executive director at Volunteer Campbell River, said charging volunteers could have negative impacts.

“It’s definitely a concern,” Howes said. “I think it would be a barrier and a deterrent. When people think about giving their time for free to better an organization and the community, people will look at that and say ‘I have to pay to volunteer?’ For some people it may not be an issue but usually people are volunteering out of the goodness of their hearts and shaping all of the non-profits we have. If they didn’t exist, we would be without a lot of service groups – all the sports groups, youth groups, the church groups, men’s, women’s, and seniors groups.”

In some cases, those groups may offer to pick up the tab for its volunteers and pay the criminal record check fee, but Howes said that too could become troublesome.

“For some organizations they would have to work out if they can even afford that,” Howes said. “It depends on the organization, but that could have a huge impact on that non-profit and their budget.”

Carrie Jacobs, the RCMP municipal manager, and Fern Peterson, police services clerk technician, wrote in a co-authored report to city council that the reasoning behind the suggested volunteer fee is to speed up the criminal record check process. There are currently 139 volunteer applications awaiting completion.

“It will resolve the backlog of processing, provide an expedited service to volunteers at a subsidized fee, and assist in funding additional staff time which is imperative to ensure processing time remains reasonable, in order to provide the best service possible,” Jacobs and Peterson wrote in their report.

That report was in front of council at a committee of the whole meeting on July 22.

Mayor Andy Adams said council referred the issue until its next committee of the whole meeting, scheduled for Aug. 26, because council wanted more information and more opportunity for discussion. Once it has been endorsed, it will go to a council meeting for approval.

Adams, at the July 22 meeting, made a motion to reduce the volunteer fee to $10 after a motion by Coun. Larry Samson to scratch the fee was defeated by council.

“I tried to find a middle ground that was more consistent with facilities on the Island,” Adams said.

Other municipalities have started charging a fee for volunteer applications as policy changes now require police agencies to conduct additional database searches when processing criminal record checks. Nanaimo charges $10 while Penticton, Vancouver and Vernon charge a $25 fee. Abbotsford charges $27 while West Vancouver charges $22.

Adams also pointed out that a lot of people are unaware that there is an online option which allows volunteers to have a criminal record check done for free.

“We advise people to do it online and there’s no fee and quite a quick turnaround,” Adams said. “We get a lot of people going directly into the RCMP building who don’t know about the online option. From my perspective, and I think council’s, it’s still important that we have a no charge option for volunteers. You hate to charge people who are volunteering their time.”

Ross Milnthorp, the city’s general manager of parks, recreation and culture, agrees.

“What we’re trying to do is expedite the process and provide the level of service the community needs,” Milnthorp said. “The city recognizes that volunteers are key to the success of the community, period.”

He also acknowledged the free online program that’s run through the province’s Criminal Records Review Act and which the city used for its part-time summer employees who needed their criminal record checks done in a timely fashion.

“It works really good, it’s free,” Milnthorp said. “And there’s a very reasonable turnaround time of about a week, as well.”

Milnthorp added that volunteer criminal record checks done through the local RCMP station have a turnaround time of roughly 10 to 12 weeks.