Fee break raises questions

The provincial government has initiated free criminal record checks but questions revolve around who is eligible.

The provincial government has initiated free criminal record checks but questions revolve around who is eligible.

Beginning Nov. 30, organizations in B.C.’s volunteer and non-profit sector will be eligible for free criminal record checks for volunteers who work with children and vulnerable adults. But a Ministry of Attorney General release doesn’t indicate whether school districts are considered to be non-profit groups.

“I have e-mailed the Ministry of Education to ask how the process of using this new service will work for schools,” said Joe Rogers, Vernon School District superintendent.

The issue of criminal record checks arose locally in May when the City of Vernon initiated a $25 fee for each application to cover its processing costs.

At the time, the Vernon School District stated it could be on the hook for $25,000 a year if it paid for criminal record checks for volunteers in schools.

Catherine Lord, a Vernon city councillor, points out that not all community volunteers are covered by the new provincial policy.

“This is for volunteers who work with children and vulnerable adults,” she said.

“But volunteers who fall outside of these parameters will still need to get a check done locally and they will also pay the fee.”

Lord says she welcomes the new provincial policy.

“Volunteers are a tremendous benefit to a community, and volunteering should not have an impact on the volunteer’s pocketbook,” she said.

In July, Vernon council agreed to discount the $25 fee for criminal record checks by 75 per cent for people who are financially disadvantaged but want to volunteer.

Other elements of the Ministry of Attorney General policy includes a more efficient sharing of current, verified criminal record checks among groups in the non-profit sector, saving them time and paperwork.

Volunteers and publicly funded employees will be able to consent to sharing verified checks with more than one organization, and businesses will be able to access existing record checks of new employees who consent to the sharing of them.