Background checks in place for volunteers

Graphic by Joshua Awolade

Graphic by Joshua Awolade

The Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union took a proactive approach to the hiring of their volunteers and coordinators this year, implementing police checks into the process.
New hires and current volunteers for Foot Patrol, Emergency Response Team and Peer Help Line internal — the volunteers behind the phone — are now required to have a vulnerable sector police check done through Waterloo Regional Police Service. This checks for criminal convictions through the Canadian Police Information Centre, findings of guilt from the Youth Criminal Justice Act, outstanding charges and warrants.

According to Samantha Deeming, vice-president of finance and administration at the Students’ Union, the logistics were figured out at the end of Orientation Week and the majority of committee members went last Sunday to WRPS to get their police checks. The diligence of the assessment is a collaboration between the dean of students office, Special Constable Services and the Students’ Union.

“The process was that we wanted to have as much information as possible for our volunteers before we brought it forward to them, especially because it asks someone to do a police check, they instantly put a wall up,” she explained. “So we wanted to ensure we had as much information and reassurance as possible.”

“We want to make sure that whatever [the volunteers’] questions were, we were prepared with answers.”

The Union is giving a two-week window for new hires to get their police checks and they filter through SCS’s department, where manager Tammy Lee then lets the Union know if there are any “red flags.”

Heather Gaffney, vice-president of programming and services, said it was an internal discussion that led to the idea of police checks when deciding on an initiative toward campus safety.

Volunteers and coordinators that are dealing with confidential information, such as a student’s name or where they live or their medical history, also sign confidentiality agreements.

“They all have to sign confidentiality forms, so it only makes sense that if they’re interacting with confidential information, we do this check for volunteers,” Gaffney said.

According to Gaffney and Deeming, the reasoning for the police checks has nothing do to with the incidents last year, when a claim was made against a Foot Patrol volunteer, and a residence life don was arrested for break and enter.

Gaffney also ensured that the decision to enforce police checks did not come from any “external pressures.”

“This year we’re really focused on being as proactive as possible,” Deeming explained. “Obviously we weren’t involved in anything that happened last year, so moving forward, one of our goals is to be as proactive as possible so that we are ensuring a safe campus for all students.”

When volunteers in Foot Patrol, ERT and Peer Help Line were approached with the initiative, there were two initial reactions.

“The first question was ‘why?’ That’s usually the question of pushback,” Gaffney said. “Any changes we’ve made, even for Orientation Week, the question was ‘why are we doing this if it wasn’t done in the past?’”

Gaffney explained the Union was “very transparent” in explaining the implementation wasn’t because of anything that has happened, but rather being as “diligent as possible” in making sure volunteers and students that use the services are safe.

The cost was the second question. Police checks will cost each student volunteer approximately $10, which will be covered by the Union.

Deeming explained that it isn’t fair for the coordinators and volunteers to pay for something that was implemented after they were hired.

“Moving forward, we’re looking at a plan of how it will be funded,” she explained.

The ultimate goal of having student volunteers undergo a police check is to make them feel more confident in both their own services as well as the others. Students can feel safe using the services because they are amongst the “best candidates.”

“We’re really happy that we were able to do a turnaround so fast,” Gaffney said. “Being able to have the entire department be on board with us as well as having the support of the dean of students office and Special Constable Services, that really helped our confidence.”

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