by Maria Lahiffe
The Not-For-Profit (NFP) sector is possibly the most diverse sector in Canada. NFPs touch the lives of just about every Canadian through social services, the arts, sports, environmental conservation, faith groups, professional associations, community health services, and more.  Volunteers are estimated to have added over two billion hours to Canada’s work effort in 2017, valued at $55.9 Billion, or 2.6% of Canada’s GDP. 
Volunteers are often at the front lines of social and community services, working directly with the people most in need of help – many of whom are among society’s most vulnerable. Working with vulnerable people brings its own set of risks. Organizations bear a responsibility to their clients to manage that risk responsibly, and an important part of that risk management is to screen volunteers consistently and effectively.
Volunteer screening is a multi-faceted endeavour which starts when you write a job description and continues throughout a volunteer’s time with your organization. An important part of screening is a Police Records Check.
We need to start this with a disclaimer. While Volunteer Ottawa has made every effort to provide accurate information, we are not qualified to give legal advice. For complete and up-to-date information regarding police records checks, contact your local police service. For legal advice, please consult a lawyer.
Police services conduct records checks by searching their various databases, as well as the RCMP National Repository of Criminal Records, depending on the type of request. There is not a national standard regarding actual type of information which is disclosed in a Police Records Check report, which means that this can vary depending on the local police force. Here is a sampling of the type of information which may be disclosed:  
There are three types of criminal records checks in Canada: 
The type of information disclosed in this check can include:
Information disclosed can include the above, plus outstanding entries such as warrants, peace bonds, or pending charges.
This is the most in-depth check, and is used when the applicant will be working with vulnerable people. The information disclosed can include the above, plus:
Note that the police cannot conduct a vulnerable sector check for everyone. The position being applied for needs to meet the requirements of the Criminal Records Act, section 6.3(3&4) and the applicant needs to be over the age of 18 ; otherwise it is illegal for the police service to conduct this level of check. 
A police records check is one part of the screening process, which allows you to assess if a candidate is suitable for a given role. In Ontario, there are no provincial laws requiring organizations to conduct police records checks.  This means it is largely up to your organization to determine the level of risk associated with each role.
Notwithstanding the above, there are some provincial statutes which govern these requirements. In Ontario, police records checks are required for staff (both paid and unpaid) who will work with, or make decisions on behalf of, persons with developmental disabilities and persons needing long-term nursing care. This includes front-line staff and volunteers, as well as board members. 
Keep in mind that a requirement for a police records check needs to be clearly and reasonably related to the Bona Fide Occupational Requirements of the role. 
A candidate must apply for a Police Record Check in the jurisdiction in which they live.  Let me repeat part of that because it is important: the candidate must make the application, or at least give consent in writing for the application to be made. 
In Ottawa, people can apply online through the Ottawa Police Service website. It is highly recommended to apply online. If a candidate does not have internet access at home, then they can visit any public library.
At the time of writing, a police records check in Ottawa for a volunteer position is free, so long as the application for the check is accompanied by a letter on letterhead from your organization, outlining the volunteer capacity at the time of the request.  Here is a downloadable sample letter which may be useful.
Residents of Gatineau/Hull may also apply for a record check with the Ottawa Police Service, if they will be volunteering, working, or attending school in Ottawa. However, there is a surcharge ($42 at the time of writing) for Quebec residents to obtain a Police Records Check from the Ottawa Police Service. 
There are both privacy and human rights considerations which cover what you can do with the information from a Police Record Check.
The results of a Police Record Check can disclose sensitive personal information and must be treated as confidential.   The information should be used only for the recruiting decision and should be disclosed only to the people in the organization who need to know for approved employment purposes. This information should not be kept for any longer than necessary; in many cases, it is enough simply to review the check and then return it to the applicant. You can note in their file that the check has been reviewed. 
Canadian Human Rights law requires organizations to follow a consistent and transparent procedure which proves that a clear criminal record is required for the working role  – it must meet the standards of a Bona Fide Occupational Requirement. Many jobs can be done by anyone with any life background. If that is the case, then it is a human rights violation to screen someone out because of their criminal record.
Remember that the information on a Police Record Check may include charges which were withdrawn or dismissed, or situations in which charges were never laid in the first place. In cases such as these, the information is irrelevant to the recruiting decision. Furthermore, if the person did, in fact, commit a crime in the past, it may be unrelated to the position they are applying for. For example, someone who served time for embezzlement may make a great line cook in your soup kitchen.
A Police Records Check is one of the 10 steps of volunteer screening. To learn more about this multifaceted process of matching the right people with the right jobs, come to our upcoming workshop.
Click here to register Tuesday, November 20, 2018. 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
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