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This article was published 23/9/2011 (3108 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — The head of a Winnipeg non-profit agency says vulnerable Canadians are being put at risk because a new system has resulted in long delays getting background checks for new workers.
Karen Fonseth, chief executive officer of Direct Action in Support of Community Homes (DASCH) says it can take more than a year for some vulnerable-sector checks to be completed due to the poor implementation of a stricter system for doing the checks.
"It's ridiculous," said Fonseth. "People can't wait five to six weeks to get a job, let alone five to six months."
In June, she had over 50 applications awaiting a criminal check. Last month, she could only watch in frustration as three more potential hires found work elsewhere.
DASCH runs residential and day programs for Manitobans with disabilities and is required by its provincial licence to ensure its employees have no criminal record, especially as it relates to sexual abuse, that could put DASCH's clients at risk.
The new system, implemented over a year ago, now requires fingerprints to be submitted for anyone whose gender and date of birth match someone who has a sex offence on record. It means far more people now need to go to their local police station to submit fingerprints and the delays for processing those prints can extend for several months.
Even the initial check before fingerprints takes four to six weeks, said Fonseth.
She said about one-third of the people she submits for a background check run into the new problem.
The RCMP directed the Free Press to its website to answer questions about the background check system. It reports waits of two to three days for electronic fingerprint submissions and 12 weeks if the fingerprints are submitted on paper. But if there is a match to a criminal record, the delay can be as long as 120 days.
However, the Winnipeg Police Service told the Free Press it now has the new electronic submission system required to speed up the fingerprint review process and said it now takes generally four weeks. It had been taking five to six months before, said a WPS spokesman.
Fonseth said even four weeks is too long. She also said the government should have had the infrastructure in place to do more detailed checks before implementing a new system.
Fonseth said DASCH has spent over $500,000 on overtime in the last year because of unfilled vacancies due to the criminal record checks.
"This is largely taxpayers' money and the public should be aware of a federal government process that was implemented in a haphazard manner without the necessary infrastructure to support it."
More troubling is that overworked staff are compromised in their ability to support clients. She also said some non-profits are resorting to letting people start work before the check is completed simply because they need bodies.
"They have no choice," she said. "Someone is going to have to die for them to take a look at this."
She said she is not advocating for less rigorous background checks, just for the government to fix the problems causing the delays.
Fonseth has written to almost every MP in Manitoba looking for help and said many, including Conservatives Rod Bruinooge and Shelly Glover, and Liberal Kevin Lamoureux, have responded and done what they can to help. But still the delays continue.
Lamoureux said since May, his constituency office has taken calls from at least 10 people about the problem.
A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said this week the new electronic system has drastically reduced the wait times.
"We encourage the RCMP to work with its policing partners to ensure that criminal record checks are done as efficiently and effectively as possible," said Julie Carmichael.