Thursday, October 23, 1997

Stewart Bell

p. A1.

Rapists, pimp allowed to keep jobs working with children

A $1-million B.C. government screen program for people working with children has deemed people with records for serious sexual offences and/or violent crimes "no risk".

Rapists, kidnappers and a pimp who sold child prostitutes have all been declared "no risk" allowed to keep jobs that involve contact with children after being screened by a B.C. government program.

Also cleared to work with children were more than 200 people with records for other crimes, including having sex with a minor, exposure, attempted murder, indecent acts, threatening, drug trafficking, assault, and telephone harassment.

The results of the $1-million criminal-records screening program, released to The Vancouver Sun under freedom-of-information laws, suggest the program, the only one of its kind in Canada, has done little to weed criminal out of jobs that involve contact with children.

Almost 300,000 teachers, nurses, government employees and others who work with the province's children have been screened since the program began last year. Three hundred and sixty criminal records were found -- mostly convictions, although a few were outstanding charges.

As a result, 227 people were ordered to appear before government-appointed adjudicators. But only four people have been declared a risk to children and reassigned to jobs that do not involve contact with minors.

The vast majority of those who'd had run-ins with the law, 217, were deemed "no-risk" to kids, including people with records for serious sexual and violent crimes. Adjudicators have not yet ruled on six cases.

The figures raise questions about the effectiveness of the program at a time when provincial official want to broaden the range of professionals required to undergo record checks to also include those who work with senior citizens.

"We know that 70 per cent of all those incarcerated at the federal and provincial levels are repeat offenders," said Chris Simmonds of Canadians Against Violence Everywhere Advocating its Termination (CAVEAT).

"To think that we've got 217 offenders in this system and that only four of them will repeat, I find that a little hard to believe," said Simmonds, who founded the B.C. branch of the lobby group after his daughter, Sian, was murdered by her doctor in 1993.

p. A2.

Criminal allows to work with kids

Premier Glen Clark once boasted that B.C.'s criminal-record screening program was "leading the country," but among those deemed "no-risk" were 117 people with assault records and one person who lived off the avails of child prostitution.

Following concerns about child sexual abuse, the province passed the Criminal Records Review Act in 1995. The law forced an estimated 289,000 teachers, doctors, social workers and others who have regular contact with, or unsupervised access to, children under 19 to submit to criminal checks.

Their names were fed into police computers programmed to detect records for 56 offences that experts associate with child physical and sexual abuse. When a match is detected, the worker is asked for fingerprints to verify the record. The cases are then sent to adjudicators who decide whether the person poses a risk to children.

The adjudicators base their rulings on the circumstances of the crime, including the age of the offender at the time and "any extenuating circumstances," the time elapsed since the offence, the person's behavior since, and the likelihood of a repeat offence.

"They receive various documents, they interview various people. It all depends on the nature of the case," said Gerry Stearns, deputy registrar of security programs division at the B.C. ministry of attorney-general, which administers the program.

Lawyers Judy Atkins and Doug Cochran are the adjudicators. They will be joined shortly by a third adjudicator, Dr. Terry Russel, a psychologist specializing in the mental health and abuse of children.

As of Sept. 26, a total of 285,472 people had been checked and the program was near completion, although new employees entering child-related jobs will continue to be screened.

"We have played a part in the whole protecting-children system, but there's lots of other parts," said Stearns. "What we set out to do was to do the checks and I believe that it's successful that way, by that definition."

B.C. is the only province with such a sweeping criminal screening program Stearns said. In most provinces, some professional associations, employers and licensing bodies require new employees to clear a criminal background check, but no other province has attempted to screen all employees already working in child-related fields.

Premier Glen Clark has boasted that B.C.'s criminal-screening program was "leading the country." But while it has identified many offenders, it has apparently not succeeded in keeping them away from children.

Among those who have been deemed "no-risk" and will continue working with kids are three with records for sexual interference, two with exposure records, five with records for sexual assault and one for living off the avails of child prostitution.

An attempted murderer was deemed "no-risk," as were 117 people with assault records for assault records, 26 with records for assault with a weapon and one for aggravated assault. All 34 people who faced adjudication over drug-trafficking records were deemed "no-risk."

Because of privacy concerns, the ministry will not released any further details about the background checks, such as the reasons adjudicators deemed so many convicts to be "no-risk," and the occupations of those with records. The Sun appealed that decision to B.C.'s information commission, but lost.

Colin Gabelmann, who was attorney-general when the program was introduced, said this week he was never convinced it would do much to protect children, but there was enormous public pressure to do something about child sexual abuse.

At the time the law was drafted, for example, a Kelowna woman, Monica Rainey, has formed a lobby group called Citizens Against Child Exploitation after finding out her son's teacher was a convicted pedophile. The group presented a petition to the legislature in 1991 urging the government to ban sex offenders from teaching jobs.

"The obvious way of trying to deal with it, the simple way, was just having criminal-record checks so you theoretically would catch people who would pose a risk," Gabelmann said. "The reality is, of course, it doesn't work that simply."

The problem is that some pedophiles have no criminal record and the background checks may create a false sense of security, he said. The fact that four people have been deemed a risk "doesn't mean there are only four people out of the 300,000 who might pose a risk, obviously."

But Gabelmann, who has since left politics, said "some people might argue, and I think fairly, that if you prevent one molestation or one incident or protect one child from being abused, it's worth it."

The attorney-general's ministry says one benefit of the new system is its deterrent effect. That is, people with records may be quitting, or not applying for certain jobs because they know they will be deemed a risk. "We have a hunch that some of it is a deterrent effect," Stearns said.

Doug Smart, registrar at the B.C. College of Teachers -- the professional body whose members have been most affected by the records checks, and has spent $250,000 of its own money on them -- said he has seen no evidence that is happening.

"It remains to be seen whether that's been a good investment of resources, or whether we should have put the money into child-protection and education programs to alert kids how to deal with these kind of situations and what to do if they are approached."

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Created: October 23, 1997
Last modified: March 21, 1998

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