City scraps proposed records check fee

The city has abandoned plans to charge volunteers for police information checks following a public backlash.

Council, at its Monday meeting, had a proposal before them from city staff to increase the fee for checks related to employment from $40 to $50, to charge $50 to Campbell River residents wanting to volunteer outside of the city, and to eliminate free checks for volunteers and instead charge them $10.

But Louise Howes, the executive director of Volunteer Campbell River, came to the meeting armed with accounts from several non-profits urging council to scrap the plan.

The John Howard Society and KidStart program wrote that “a $10 fee would represent a barrier to some of my volunteers and a deterrent to others. It would be wonderful if the city and RCMP would support volunteerism loudly by continuing free checks for volunteers.”

But the Campbell River Hospital’s volunteer program and Yucalta Lodge wrote that “we understand volunteers may be offended to pay a cost to be screened when they’re freely giving their time to volunteer in our community.”

City staff had been recommending the fee in order to help reduce the volume of criminal record checks and subsequent wait times.

Carrie Jacobs, the city’s RCMP municipal manager, said the $10 fee for volunteers – which was reduced from the originally proposed $25 – would partially offset processing costs while recognizing the considerable efforts and dedication of volunteers.

City staff said for those who couldn’t afford the fee, that free criminal record checks for volunteers can be done online through the BC Ministry of Justice, but only for organizations that are registered with the ministry. The cost to register, however, is too much for some organizations.

Howes said the Campbell River Air Youth Association said to take on such an expense would mean sacrifices.

“Every $1 taken for operating expenses, such as screening, is a dollar taken from the development of our youth.”

Howes pleaded with council to do the right thing.

“Is it fair to tell a volunteer they will pay for a screening process to be completed or for an agency already tight on money to come up with additional funds to support their already lean volunteer programs?” Howes questioned. “Volunteers shape our community.

“Shouldn’t we be engaging volunteers, not making barriers for them and the agencies they work with?

“Remember, volunteers are not paid because they’re useless but because they’re priceless.”

Coun. Larry Samson agreed, and urged council to show its support for volunteers and the non-profits that would have a difficult time paying for the checks for its volunteers.

“Volunteers are one of the most important resources a community has,” Samson said, “and organizations in the community are struggling to meet their operating needs.

“They only have so much money and if we take that money away from them, that means $10 less to go out and deliver the service the organization is so proud of, so it will have an impact.”

Samson also pointed out that council, during its budget planning sessions in December, was told by city staff that the RCMP budget – which didn’t include an increase – was sufficient enough to keep staffing levels where they need to be.

“We were told by our staff that $9 million would sufficiently cover their needs,” said Samson, noting that council even allocated funding for a staff position that would assist with criminal record checks.

“I urge council to stay ‘let’s leave it as it is,’” he said. “Volunteers are one of the most important assets to our community and I think the $10 we’re going to receive, I don’t think will make a difference to the RCMP budget.”

Council, without further discussion, appeared to agree with Samson as it unanimously approved scrapping the recommended fees for police information checks.