Do All Volunteers Need to Get a Criminal Record Check?

Do volunteers at charitable food programs need to have a criminal record check, or is it optional? Does it depend on what kind of population the program is serving? What’s the process and does it cost? Who exactly is a volunteer, when programs (such as Planted recommends) follow Asset Based Community Development principles to blur the distinction between volunteers and guests/clients in order to promote skill-building, friendship and mutual transformation?

For answers, we need to turn to the BC Ministry of Justice and the Criminal Records Review Act.

Do volunteers at charitable food programs need to have a vulnerable sector criminal record check, or is it optional?

Paid staff who work directly with children and vulnerable adults, or who may have unsupervised access to them, must have a vulnerable sector criminal record checks done before they are hired and at least every five years afterward. Legislation does not require criminal record checks for volunteers in such positions, but the Criminal Records Review Program (CRRP) recommends it.

Who is a “vulnerable adult”?

You can safely assume that anyone elderly or poor, and everyone being served by your charitable food program, is a vulnerable adult. Legislation offers this definition: “an individual 19 years or older who receives health services, other than acute care, from a hospital, facility, unit, society, service, holder or registrant referred to [elsewhere in legislation].” Food programs qualify as a health service, and most charities would include any kind of service whatsoever.

Who is a “volunteer”?

This is trickier. Technically, a volunteer is an individual who “(a) voluntarily provides services to a registered specified organization, and (b) receives no monetary compensation in relation to the services or the time spent providing the services.” Clearly, this definition includes virtually everyone serving in a standard soup kitchen, and it would be best if each of them undergoes a criminal record check before starting to volunteer.

But at what point does a vulnerable adult who is accessing your food program become a “volunteer” when she starts to take an active role in the program, such as helping in the kitchen or serving food, and you begin giving her increasing responsibility or training? What about “volunteers” whose job description is simply to participate in the program activities on the same terms as the vulnerable people who rely on your food program? In other words what happens if your program is designed to erase the difference between host and guest, volunteer and client?

We put these questions to staff at the CRRP. They simply referred us to the definition in the Criminal Record Review Act, which we quoted above.

In the absence of specific response from the CRRP we propose that, if you are running a food program on Asset Based Community Development principles, then you should create documentation that clearly states a primary goal for assisting the vulnerable is to put them on the same level as others in their community, and that this is to be reflected in who does what tasks in the food program. “Volunteers” would be only those who have actual or implied authority over others in the program, such as a lead person overseeing activity in the kitchen or elsewhere. At a minimum, these lead persons are the ones who would need to undergo a records check. However, we aren’t qualified to give legal advice, so you should consult a lawyer to verify what roles and degrees of authority go beyond mere participation in a program and count as volunteer work.

What’s the process for getting background checks done? Is there a fee?

There are two types of background checks – a generic criminal record check, and a vulnerable persons criminal record check. Your volunteer organization has discretion to decide which check you want to obtain. Once it is decided, must complete the same one. Checks can be done through your local RCMP/Police or the Criminal Records Review Program in Victoria. Checks through your local constabulary or police must be done in person and typically cost $25, but the CRRP is free for volunteer organizations and done online.

The CRRP process for organization-based requests is described on their website here, and the enrolment form to register your organization in the CRRP can be downloaded here. Once enrolled, you’ll be sent an digital “key” that you can give to prospective volunteers, so they can fill in their information online. Be advised that the CRRP verifies the identity of volunteer applicants by using personal secret information submitted through the Equifax credit history service; the CRRP will not have access to their credit history or personal information. But if the volunteer doesn’t have a credit card or credit history, the online service won’t work for them.

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