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Criminal Record Checks for Volunteers: Balancing Public Safety and Convenience

People who volunteer in the health sector are often asked to provide a Police Criminal Record Check; Police Information Check; or Police Vulnerable Sector Check. Such checks are a useful tool to help organizations screen volunteers, which is particularly important if they will be interacting with vulnerable people.

Although the checks are an important public safety measure, they can become a deterrent to potential volunteers. Often the volunteer must pay personally for the check, and must attend in person at their local police station. A person who wishes to volunteer at multiple organizations must provide multiple – often identical – police checks. This may deter anyone, but especially people with limited financial resources and people who face challenges traveling (for example, people who require Wheel-Trans to get around).

There have been efforts over the past several years to amend the law so that a volunteer can use the same police check for multiple organizations (if the results from the check are less than one year old).

The latest effort to enact this change came on September 15, 2016, with the first reading of Bill 15, Helping Volunteers Give Back Act, 2016. Variations of this Bill have been introduced previously in the Ontario Legislature.

The stated purpose of the Bill is “to promote volunteerism by reducing the frequency with which an organization that retains the services of a volunteer can require a criminal record check for the volunteer and by reducing the cost to a volunteer of obtaining a criminal record check, while still ensuring public safety.“

An exception is proposed that would allow an organization to request another police check if “the organization has actual notice or reasonable grounds to believe that a conviction for an offence has been added to the volunteer’s criminal record since the date of the most recent criminal record check“.

The Bill will have to go through several additional stages before it becomes law.

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