September 22, 2014
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Church officials fear that a proposal to fingerprint volunteers might discourage many people from offering their time and talents to the Church.

The RCMP proposal would require volunteers to be fingerprinted prior to receiving a criminal record check.

The procedure is aimed at increasing public safety and reducing the likelihood that somebody could obtain a criminal record check or police information check using false identity.

"This proposal discourages volunteerism," said Teresa Kellendonk, director of pastoral and parish services for the Edmonton Archdiocese. She said under the proposal even church ushers would have to be fingerprinted. "Why target everybody who wants to volunteer?"

Kellendonk said the archdiocese's multilevel screening of volunteers has been effective in protecting public safety. "We do interviews, reference checks and training and it has worked well for us."

In a letter to Heather Jacobsen, police information check section program coordinator, Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Bittman said the proposal will affect the ministry outreach of the parishes, which rely heavily on volunteers to carry out their mission.

"Introducing the new procedure will have a negative effect because it will reinforce many parishioners' perception that they cannot be trusted (and) that they lack integrity," the bishop said in the Aug. 1 letter.

"Mandatory fingerprinting will cause many of these valued volunteers to simply stop offering their time and talent and cease their volunteer activity."

Implementing the proposal would also have a negative financial impact, according to Bittman, who said it would cost $175,000 to fingerprint 7,000 volunteers at $25 each.

"With this proposal, you are going to dramatically cut the number of people who want to volunteer," lamented archdiocesan volunteer coordinator Lucy Kaakyo. "This will diminish community activity."

The Edmonton Police information check section declined comment on the RCMP proposal, although the section's manager, Dave Elanik, had earlier spoken to the Edmonton Sun.

Scott Patterson, spokesperson for the information check section, told the WCR the proposal is under review, and "we are not going to speak about it any longer."

Elanik, a former police inspector, told the Edmonton Sun he has never known any false identity occurrences happening with criminal record checks.

Elanik said he is concerned about the impact it would have on volunteerism since anyone wanting to volunteer for any organization would have to be fingerprinted.

"That would mean we would be fingerprinting volunteers from as young as 12 years old or someone over 80 who wants to volunteer at their church," Elanik is quoted as saying in a Sun story published Aug. 12. "To me, that just doesn't make sense. There's no public safety benefit."

AGENCIES OBJECT

The Sun reported that Edmonton police received 69,103 information check applications last year, mainly for volunteering and employment purposes. Of those, only 3,733 were fingerprinted for the purposes of a vulnerable sector check. With the RCMP proposal, however, everyone would have to be fingerprinted.

A few weeks ago, Elanik sent a notice to all volunteer agencies advising of the proposed change. Within a day, he received 75 replies.

"They are saying this will have a significant impact on their ability to retain and recruit volunteers," Elanik told the Sun.

OPENING THE DOOR

He is concerned the proposal might cause some volunteer organizations to simply forgo criminal record checks, opening the door to dangerous offenders.

"There are a lot of people that have that stigma around being fingerprinted. If you have no reason, if you have the proper identity, to me it just doesn't make any sense why we would need to fingerprint someone."

In his letter to Jacobsen, Bittman requested that the RCMP proposal be revisited. The new procedures were initially scheduled to be implemented in July 2015, but the proposal is now on hold until as late as 2017 to allow more consultation with stakeholders.