Breaking the silence on Students’ Union police check policy

Two years is a long time at Wilfrid Laurier University. Two years ago, a Residence Life don was arrested for stealing from students. Following that arrest, all other dons were forced to submit criminal record checks to the department of residence life. I was a don that year, and while after hiring we had all been told that submitting a criminal record check was mandatory, the one that I got from my home police station in Durham sat in my office desk until February when the department realized they hadn’t been properly covering their ass.

Shortly before those events, a Dear Life ran in The Cord about Foot Patrol. “Dear Life, My assailant is on foot patrol [sic]. Well there goes feeling safe on this campus. Sincerely, Dropping Out.” I was also on Foot Patrol at the time — as I still am — and these two events made the end of the 2014 school year one of the most intense I’ve ever experienced. The Dear Life sent the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union into a frenzy. The Editor-in-Chief of The Cord at the time got emails criticizing the paper for running the Dear Life, at the very least because they hadn’t let the Students’ Union know beforehand. As a volunteer, we had a big meeting with Annie Constantinescu, the Students’ Union president at the time, where she told us about the new police check policy and gave us her condolences for the stress we were going through as volunteers.

At that meeting and the similar meeting we had the next September, I expressed my concerns about Union volunteers having to request and submit police checks. Not the least of which were about who had to foot the bill (no pun intended). However, I went along with the process that September and walked up to the Waterloo Regional Police station on Columbia Street with all the Foot Patrol volunteers to do our applications as a group. The one thing we had to do after submitting the application was go pick up the check when it was ready and bring it to the Union office.

But I didn’t do that. I remember talking to other volunteers that year, saying I would not go pick up the check until the Union forced me to. While I’m sure most volunteers did as they were asked and submitted checks, I waited as the months went by. No emails telling me I would be prohibited from shifting until I submitted the check. No phone call telling me to come to the office and talk with the vice-president of finance and administration. Nothing. So I made it through the year and applied to be a volunteer again for this year.

This past September, Foot Patrol volunteers were again subject to a meeting where we were told we would need to get police checks and that the Union would provide us with letters so we could get the discounted rate from the police station. And again, I did not go to the station to get a police check. And again, I was not restricted from volunteering. When I went to meet with the current vice-president of finance and administration this past October to request a leave of absence to deal with some mental health issues, nothing was brought up about how I had not completed this seemingly vital screening process.

A little over a month ago, I suggested to a few other editors here at The Cord that it would be worthwhile to look into the police check situation, and the result of that investigation was a story that ran last week. The writer put in a lot of hours to get that story out and the results from our perspective were lackluster. Not for lack of trying, but because no one would talk to us.

As I told my colleague, I got an email from the Foot Patrol coordinator asking us volunteers to refer any inquiring reporters to the coordinator, the vice-president of programming and services or the Students’ Union president. Despite the already stressful scenario of telling a reporter you may not be totally happy with a part of how the service you love is being run, the Union thought it was a good idea to have coordinators tell their volunteers to stay quiet.

I get message control. I understand the desire to keep the flow of information centralized so misinformation doesn’t get out.

So here I am, an active Foot Patrol volunteer telling the students of Wilfrid Laurier University that I am an active volunteer and I have not submitted a criminal record check and I will not submit a criminal record check because I fundamentally disagree with what I see as a flawed policy.

These flaws are numerous. Firstly, you can be denied a criminal record check if you don’t request it from your local police station. When I went to get a police check done in Waterloo in 2013 for Residence Life – I was turned down at the station because my residence contract was temporary and my real home address was still in Durham. This is only a problem for volunteers living in residence, but it is a real concern and certainly not the only flaw.

Secondly, it has never been outlined to volunteers or the general Laurier population what would happen in the case of a criminal record check coming back positive. Say a student who was convicted of marijuana possession in high school got their record checked and the record showed up on the check. What happens when they submit the check to the Union? Does having any criminal record prohibit you from volunteering? If not, then which crimes are the union looking for? And if the individual in question does come forward, what is the process for dealing with them? Is it a meeting with a vice-president or the dean of students, or the Students’ Union president? Does that meeting involve the person having to disclose exactly what happened and why they’ll never do it again because they’re a changed person?

Thirdly, has anyone thought of what impact this has on students with minor criminal records? A first-year student with a breaking and entering conviction from when they were 15-years old gets to Laurier wanting to make a fresh start. They apply for Foot Patrol and get to training and find out that they have to submit a criminal record check before they can start volunteering. So instead of getting to serve the student population at Laurier and make the amazing connections that the Union offers, this student decides to quit before they have to admit an embarrassing part of their past.

I’ve been involved as a participant, volunteer, employee and policy maker with organizations that use criminal record checks. This includes summer camps, youth volunteer organizations, church Sunday school programs, the department of residence life and the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union. And even if the person in charge has been able to accurately describe why they need me to submit a criminal record check, no one has outlined the actual scenario for what happens when a check comes back positive and how to handle those situations so we don’t ostracize people who don’t deserve to be ostracized.

I was briefly a coworker of Students’ Union president Olivia Matthews and I’ve volunteered with Joanna Sadgrove, the Union’s current vice-president of finance and administration as well as the current Foot Patrol coordinator Jasmeen Mangat and her entire executive. I have deep respect for them all and consider them to be friends. And I love being a Foot Patrol volunteer.

But I am terrified about this article being published because I’m worried those bridges are about to go up in flames. But the students of Wilfrid Laurier University and the volunteers of the Students’ Union, present and future, deserve transparency here. Two years is a long time at Wilfrid Laurier University and the policy of mandatory criminal record checks for Foot Patrol volunteers is still being swept under the rug.

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