It's a jungle out there. You only need to watch any local if-it-bleeds-it-leads news broadcast. One can never be too careful, can one?
Well, yes, one can.
For reasons as debased and suspect as pride in my happy mountain home and a love of sharing it with others not as lucky — those living, well, anywhere else, for example — I used to volunteer with the Village Host program. Yes, I wore the red, made regular appearances in and near the Punch and Judy kiosk, froze my toes and nose and answered a regular stream of questions from an irregular parade of tourists.
I learned where the public washrooms were — there are a surprising number of them, many hidden more cleverly than green eggs on a manicured lawn at Easter — I learned not to call them washrooms but toilets; I learned where the nearest ATMs were, how to give directions to the base of both mountains in a mix of gibberish and universal sign language, how to direct people to McDonald's without showing outward signs of revulsion at their choice or suggesting if they really wanted a burger they might try Splitz instead, and, most important, why I shouldn't misdirect them just so they could have the unbridled pleasure of experiencing Whistler the way St. Beck intended it to be experienced: lost and wandering.
There were bitterly cold days when I wished I hadn't signed up for a four-hour shift. But even on those, Scotty from Citta would show up with a warming cup of hot chocolate or one of the waitstaff from La Bocca would bring over coffee and we'd feel the glow of appreciation. Other days were fabulous, bright, sunny and busy or spring days when it was clear winter would eventually give way to bike 'n' hike season and days when Tom Thomson would alternately make me laugh and then wonder how he got away saying some of the things he'd say to passing strangers.
So after missing a couple of years for reasons beyond my control, I decided to go back this winter. Sadly, I've opted out. Oh, I still wander the village, answering questions from puzzled tourists, offering my misguiding services and trying to spread local cheer, but I do it on my own time and wherever the need seems to arise. As it turned out, I couldn't meet the requirements to be a Village Host again.
I still know where the toilets are, where the ATMs are, which nights someone so inclined might go to which clubs to find which kind of action and how to get to dual mountain. I'd still be willing to numb my toes for four hours, be helpful and answer the same question 50 times as though I'd never been asked it before. And I'd still don the red and help humanize what can apparently be a very puzzling experience for more people than you might expect, visiting Whistler.
But what I won't do is submit to a criminal record check for the privilege of volunteering to do it. That's an ask too far.
I'm not certain when the Human Resources department of the RMOW decided they wanted their Village Host volunteers to undergo a criminal record check but I do know it's a misguided, heavy-handed and unnecessary intrusion and, quite frankly, damn insulting.
The ostensible reason the RMOW demanded the intrusive background checks was because Village Hosts might deal with children — lost children — and vulnerable people. Vulnerable people include children, the elderly and people with disabilities; it's a statutory definition arising out of the Criminal Records Review Act of 1996, which was originally designed to help protect children from people whose criminal record shows they pose a risk of physical or sexual abuse. The Act was expanded in 2009 to include vulnerable adults.
There are a number of people in varied jobs — those who work with or have unsupervised access to children and vulnerable adults — who are required by law to have these checks. That only makes sense for doctors, nurses, teachers and such.
Some volunteers, such as those in day cares and after school programs need to get checked. But the vast majority of volunteers are not required by law to get checked. Ironically, nannies, babysitters, child minders for a private company, municipal employees, and others do not require a criminal background check. So if I worked for the muni, I wouldn't need one but if I volunteer....
In several seasons hosting, I dealt with one lost child. A warm reunion was arranged within minutes. I dealt with countless vulnerable persons, many elderly, some with disabilities and quite a few who where going to wet themselves if they didn't find a toilet in the next few seconds. They were, of course, tangential and incidental to the business at hand — giving directions and answering questions. The opportunity to abuse them physically or sexually would have required a conspiracy of my fellow hosts and a whole lot more imagination than I possess.
Now, I don't have a criminal record. I know that may come as a surprise to some of you but I managed to get away with everything I've ever done that might have earned me one and none of it involved physical or sexual abuse of anyone other than myself or whomever was stupid enough to go climbing with me. Just for the record, those instances involved physical abuse of a self-inflicted, consensual, granite-against-skin nature.
I'm pretty sure I could pass a background check. On the other hand, so were others who had a similar name or same birthday as someone with a criminal background. They had the fun and further humiliation of having to be finger printed and mug shot so they could volunteer.
I have three objections to this. First I don't trust the RCMP. Sorry guys, but you've earned it. Aside from the egregious acts of assault, there was the recent report of Canada's privacy commissioner outlining the department's failure to purge records that shouldn't haven't been kept on people guilty of nothing.
Second, this is an unnecessary, cover-your-ass decision by the RMOW. If you want to take the position that you can't trust anyone, don't be surprised when everyone takes the same position vis-à-vis you.
Third, the B.C. privacy commissioner last summer outlined a number of widespread abuses of criminal background checks, calling it a disturbing trend for more and more employers to require them simply to reduce the risk of liability.
It's lazy management and moves us back to the bad old days when people were branded their whole lives for what could quite possibly have been a momentary lapse of judgment.
We should be better than that.
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