Times Colonist

Five-year checks miss the mark

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Anew law designed to ensure that adults with criminal records are not able to work with children has inspired the opposition of an unusual alliance. The B.C. College of Teachers, the B.C. School Trustees’ Associatio­n and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation are all against the Criminal Records Review Act, which requires criminal record checks every five years.

The law applies to all 41,000 teachers in the province, along with everyone else whose jobs require them to work directly with children. It’s an extensive list, including doctors, nurses, dentists, chiropract­ors, physical therapists, support staff and child care providers.

There is also an extensive list of offences that would result in the loss of employment. There are 62 offences, ranging from trespassin­g at night to cruelty to animals to murder.

The theory behind the act is simple enough. It is designed to help protect children from physical and sexual abuse. It identifies individual­s whose criminal record indicates they pose a risk of physical or sexual abuse.

An initial criminal record check is needed before a person is allowed to start working with children. The five-year check would be an update of sorts, a chance to ensure that a person has not been in trouble with the law in the previous halfdecade.

That would provide an additional safety net. The best system would involve the police and Crown making the connection when a charge is laid against a person who works with children. No system is perfect, though, so another level of security would seem to make sense.

None of the groups opposed to the five-year rule objects to the initial criminal record check. It’s just the five-year aspect that has triggered concern — so much, in fact, that the College of Teachers has organized a meeting on June 17 to discuss what action might be taken.

The new law was drafted after the B.C. Confederat­ion of Parent Advisory Councils passed a resolution in 2006 calling for criminal record checks for school employees every three years.

As we have stated before, the government must do everything possible to ensure the safety and security of the children in our schools. That includes keeping a close watch on everyone who comes in contact with them — all of those people who are in positions of power and influence over children who can be quite vulnerable.

That said, we can understand the concerns raised by the teachers, the trustees and the others. It will take money and time to do the checks, yet the usefulness of the system has not been establishe­d.

If the check at the start of a career is not sufficient, then it makes sense to have more through a person’s career. But how often? A five-year check could come a full four years and 11 months after a person was found guilty of a criminal offence. Should checks be done annually? Monthly?

The cost would spiral, and there still would be no absolute guarantee that a child would not be abused in some way. Why should we assume, for example, that only people with previous conviction­s are likely to offend?

The five-year check system does not make the grade — and technology might provide an alternativ­e.

Teachers, doctors and other profession­al organizati­ons already have computeriz­ed databases of their members. Why not create, specifical­ly for the court system, a province-wide registry of those individual­s who have been approved to work with children? It would be easy to check for names — and if that check fails to spot a problem, automatic comparison­s could be made between that registry and the latest court records.

The vast majority of the people working with our children will never show up in court records. It only makes sense to have a system that is effective and efficient, something that cannot be said for the existing system.

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