Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Organizations decry drawn-out background checks

Backlog being addressed: province

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OTTAWA -- The wait for many Manitoba organizations to get criminal-background checks on potential employees or volunteers is down significantly since the summer.

But the head of an agency that last fall outed the long wait to get the federal checks says the province's child-abuse registry check system is now causing delays.

"It's reaching the point where it's so ridiculous you want to throw your hands up in the air," said Karen Fonseth, chief executive officer of Direct Action in Support of Community Homes (DASCH).

Fonseth's agency runs residential and day programs for both youth and adults with disabilities. In September, potential hires were waiting more than six months for clearance through the federal vulnerable-sector checks.

The delays flowed from a new system designed to snare child predators who change their names to avoid detection. It now requires applicants to submit fingerprints if they have a similar name and birthdate to a sex offender.

Police in Winnipeg, Brandon, Winkler and Thompson have technology to submit the fingerprints to the RCMP electronically, which speeds things up. Checks for people who don't require fingerprints take two to three weeks. For those who require fingerprints the wait is eight to 12 weeks, said Fonseth.

"It's not ideal but it's reasonable."

But now DASCH is waiting for applicants to clear the province's child-abuse registry.

Fonseth said DASCH currently has 74 potential hires waiting. All have been cleared by the RCMP, but none has cleared the province's registry. Thirty have been waiting since September. It means DASCH lost the chance to hire people they had interviewed and worked with to determine they were a good fit for their programs.

"When you're short-staffed, clients are at risk and staff are at risk," said Fonseth. "A system in place to protect individuals is backfiring and making them unsafe."

A provincial spokesman said the province is aware of the backlog and is dealing with it. The number of applicants for checks has doubled in the last 10 years because more care is being taken to protect children from possible predators, the spokesman said.

The province is hiring nine people to "blitz through the backlog" this month and hopes to get all the backlogged checks completed in six weeks, said the spokesman. Three staff will be hired permanently to try and keep processing times down in the future.

Liberal MP Ralph Goodale is also concerned about organizations that aren't in major centres or those that aren't served by police with electronic fingerprint capacity.

The RCMP recently said without electronic submission of fingerprints, it takes five to 14 weeks to transfer the paper documents to the computer and up to 120 days on top of that to review and analyze the fingerprints.

With just four sites in Manitoba and two in Saskatchewan that have the electronic equipment, Goodale said that leaves a lot of people waiting.

He's also concerned about how the government is using the money it collects from the public to do the checks. Those fees added up to $3 million in 2011.

Greg Guenther, director of coaching for Sport Manitoba, said the background-check systems remain a real challenge for amateur sports. He said the cost of the checks (up to $100 for those who need fingerprints) has led some coaches to simply walk away.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 12, 2012 B2

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