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Toronto, Peel boards have similar policies that would let Homolka volunteer

NEWS STAFF | posted Thursday, Jun 1st, 2017

Online fury erupted on Tuesday after a CityNews exclusive report found that Karla Homolka occasionally volunteers at her children’s school. Delving into the policies at Ontario schools found that the same thing could have happened in any Toronto area school.

TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird confirmed that, while reference checks are required for regular volunteers, they are not mandatory for those who volunteer occasionally, like Homolka does.

“In order to promote and support volunteerism in our schools, while protecting the safety of students and staff, Police reference checks are required for people who volunteer on a regular, scheduled or overnight basis. (including community-based coaches working with school teams, post-secondary co-op students and others looking for volunteer experience to assist entry into faculties of education),” he said in a statement to CityNews.

“People who volunteer on a casual basis may be required to provide a Police Reference Check at the discretion of the Principal. Examples could be volunteering as a guest speaker for a day or a fun fair at a school.”

A spokesperson for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which runs the school where Homolka’s children attend classes in a suburb of Montreal, explained that the notorious serial killer was “not a regular volunteer” and that they were aware of “who she is” but that she was never alone with the children. Several sources connected with the school said that on March 22 Homolka helped supervise a group of kindergarten students during a field trip to the Montreal Science Centre.

At the TDSB, Bird said a follow up interview is conducted, should one of the volunteers have a “problematic” reference check.

“As police reference checks are conducted by a police force and then submitted by the prospective volunteer to the Board, we don’t not typically see a large number of checks that would be problematic,” Bird explained.

“All individuals with a police record are interviewed by a trained employee services staff member to determine if that record should preclude them from working with students at the TDSB.”

When it comes to both the Peel District School Board and the Toronto Catholic District School Board, a similar policy is in place.

PDSB spokesperson Carla Pereira said that parents who volunteer to come on a school trip, where staff members are there to supervise, are considered “low risk” and don’t require a background check.

“Any parent who wishes to attend, can attend a field trip with their children. They wouldn’t be left alone, for any period of time, with students on their own. They would always have staff around. They wouldn’t ever be one-on-one with any other children outside of their own.”

However, Pereira said the final decision on all background checks for low risk volunteers is left up to the school’s principal.

“A principal could require all of their volunteers, regardless of whether it’s an ongoing volunteer placement or a short term volunteer placement, to have their criminal record checks done,” she explained.

Pereira said it’s extremely rare that they have problems with a “low risk” volunteer.

“I’ve been with the board for 14 years and during that time I’ve not seen an issue arise at a low, medium or high risk volunteer … it’s not something that’s common,” she said.

“We want our students to be safe and for their well being to be top of mind and so we do the screenings not just because they’re mandated by law but because they’re the right thing to do.”

Related stories:

Lawyer of Karla Homolka’s school girl victims: ‘She’s psychotic’

The debate over Homolka’s right to be an occasional volunteer at her children’s school went all the way to Parliament Hill on Wednesday.

Newly elected Progressive Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said this revelation shines a light on Canada’s broken justice system.

“Mister Speaker, our criminal justice system is so broken that one of Canada’s most notorious serial killers is now volunteering at a school. As a father, I can’t imagine the horror of listening to my children come home and tell me they spent the day with Karla Homolka. It’s sick. When will the Prime Minister close this loophole that’s allowing this to happen?”

Canada’s Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale stood behind the existing system

“The system that is in place for doing vulnerable sector checks is a system that makes sure that employers and those that organize volunteers and runs schools and churches have access to information to make sure they make informed and prudent decisions. That is the system, mister Speaker, that is in place today. And it was in place similarly under the previous government.”

Vulnerable sector checks were created in 2000 to protect children and vulnerable persons. Vulnerable sector checks are used to verify if an individual has a record suspension (formerly pardon) for sex offences. They also include checks of national data bases maintained by the RCMP and local police records where the applicant lives.