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Differing fees for criminal checks frustrate volunteers

Julie Wang sits and chats with Evergreen resident Annalise during a volunteer session. - Sarah Massah photo
Julie Wang sits and chats with Evergreen resident Annalise during a volunteer session.
— image credit: Sarah Massah photo

A White Rock chaplain says a $52 fee for criminal-record checks for Surrey residents volunteering in White Rock will cause “undue hardship” on both the volunteers and the organizations depending on them.

Rev. Dr. Ken Klassen, who has been co-ordinating volunteers at Evergreen Baptist Campus of Care for the last two years, said he first heard of the fee late November when student volunteer Julie Wang went to get her criminal-record check and was charged because she lives in Surrey and was volunteering at the care home located in White Rock.

“Up until then, I’ve had no problems receiving criminal-record reports,” Klassen said.

“They were either mailed or brought directly to me without any sort of extra charge.

“If her parents had not been with her, there is no way a Grade 11 student would be able to pay for it.”

Wang said her parents reluctantly paid the fee, but they were not happy about it.

“I was like really shocked. My parents were surprised too, and they (asked Surrey RCMP) if they were trying to punish people for volunteering,” she said.

Surrey Cpl. Drew Grainger confirmed to Peace Arch News that the fee is charged for residents who volunteer in other cities, but is waived when the volunteering is done in their own city.

Klassen points out many students who attend high school in South Surrey – which draws residents of both cities – are required to volunteer in order to graduate, and many will look at opportunities south of 16 Avenue.

“It is ridiculous. We’re a highly mobile society, and if someone sees an opportunity in another city that could turn into a job, they’ll be penalized,” he said.

Klassen said he contacted city officials in Surrey and was offered no solution; staff  simply recited the policy.

“They say, Surrey pays for the RCMP to provide policing for Surrey and part of their policing includes criminal-record checks. Now, since it’s actually going to be servicing White Rock, how do they reclaim the time?”

Currently, there is a roster of 60 volunteers who work 150 to 200 hours a month at the Klassen’s Oxford Street facility. But that number is going to greatly decline because of the fees, Klassen predicted.

Added to Fraser Health’s mandatory tuberculosis check, costing $40, fees total $92.

“By the time a volunteer gets orientation and training, they have had to (spend) nearly $100 just to contribute back to society,” Klassen said, noting that with a decline in volunteers, the people residing in the facility will be the most hurt.

“We rely and benefit on volunteers to do a lot of one-on-one visits. Sometimes there is companionship needed.

“We can offer programming that allows us to do a variety of things. You need the extra eyes, extra ears and extra hands to make sure it’s a safe experience for everybody.”

According to Grainger, the $52 covers clerical work, administrative costs, time to go through files, paper and use of the database.

But Klassen disagrees how the cost adds up.

“To be honest, I just don’t see how much work it is to pull a file up,” he said.

White Rock has a similar policy for volunteers working out of the city. However, the cost of the fee is less than half at $ 25.

For now, Klassen has been advising those looking to sign up as a volunteer to request a criminal background check from the provincial government, which only costs $20. Although he continues to try to find ways to help volunteers with the financial cost, he admits there is not much else he can do.

“My hands are tied,” he said. “And so are the volunteers, as someone reaches into their wallets and purses to grab $52.”

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