Screening Our Volunteers: when do we need a Police Information Check?

digital-fingerprint-scan-300x300In my 7 months here at Volunteer Alberta, I have had the opportunity to work with a variety of organizations across Alberta to help them address their needs. One of my responsibilities is to support the administration of the Volunteer Police Information Check Program, designed to alleviate the cost of Police Information Checks for volunteers engaging with the vulnerable sector.

The RCMP has recently proposed a policy to implement fingerprinting for all persons requesting Police Information Checks, many of whom are prospective volunteers. The fingerprinting process would enable police services around Alberta to easily verify the identity of each requestor and prevent individuals from attempting to acquire a Police Information Check with a false identity.

Last week, Dave Elanik, manager of the Edmonton Police Service’s Police Information Check Section, expressed his concern over the proposed changes. Elanik worries that, if implemented, this process could pose significant barriers to volunteerism. Organizations across Alberta have been voicing their agreement, citing the anticipated increase in waiting times and potential privacy concerns as deterrents to volunteers.

All of this begs the question – when do we need a Police Information Check?

Certainly, when screening for positions that involve engaging with the vulnerable sector (namely children, the elderly and persons with disabilities), a Police Information Check can be indispensable. But even in these cases, it is important to note that a Police Information Check should be just one aspect of an organization’s screening process. Furthermore, if an organization takes the time to assess the level of risk associated with their volunteer positions, they may find that some positions do not require volunteers to undergo Police Information Checks at all.

A comprehensive screening process has three phases – the pre-hiring process, the hiring process and the management process. In the pre-hiring process, an organization will assess potential risks, write clear position descriptions to reflect these risks and develop a formal recruitment process. In the hiring process, volunteers complete an application form, interviews are conducted, references are checked, and a Police Information Check, if relevant, is administered. In the managing process, an orientation and training session is conducted, volunteers are regularly evaluated, and the organization follows up with the clients or participants being served by the volunteers.

With a comprehensive screening process in place, an organization can better match their volunteers, ensure the quality and safety of their programs and services, and reduce the risk and liability to their volunteers, clients and staff. Of course, even organizations equipped with an effective and thoughtful screening policy can still find that in some circumstances, a Police Information Check is required for their volunteers. For these cases, it is important to note that the implementation of mandatory fingerprinting is well-intended to further protect the vulnerable populations and volunteers involved, but could likely pose additional barriers and burdens to volunteers and organizations.

More information on screening:

Volunteer Police Information Check Program
Volunteer Alberta Screening webpage
Volunteer Canada Screening Handbook
Best Practice Guidelines for Screening Volunteers

If you have any questions regarding the proposed policy changes to Police Information Checks, please contact us at

Rachel Pereira, Program/Administrative Assistant