By Nick Smith, The Tyee
Just after the Christmas holidays, I found myself at the local RCMP detachment getting fingerprinted.
My only crime was that I allowed myself to get roped into coaching a pack of kids when I signed my eight-year-old up for cross-country ski lessons. Reporting to the RCMP station for a criminal record check required of volunteer coaches, I was told that my gender and birth date matched that of a sex offender - or I should say, one of 14,000 sex offenders - who may or may not have changed his name. I would have to come back the next day for fingerprinting, according to a ruling that came down last summer.
I figured that if they were going to treat me like a criminal, they better have a good reason, so I showed up ready to cross-examine the constable on duty before I started pressing my personal identifiers into any inkpad. As the officer guided me to a bare windowless room in the back of the station, I began by asking him what will happen with my prints once they are done with them.
He was neither rude nor polite, but was clearly not in the mood for conversation. I soon realized that this was just about fingerprinting me and that I wasn't getting any questions answered. Despite the fact that I had done nothing wrong, accusation hung heavy in the air.
I now wish that I had started asking questions before I showed up at the station. If I had spent some time digging for answers earlier rather than later, I would have found out that the whole process is not based on any person or incident but merely seeks to close a legal loophole, and that at present, it is not enforced.
It is also putting a huge strain on a local RCMP detachment that suddenly finds itself saddled with fingerprinting thousands of innocent people like myself while being given no extra time for doing so. Lastly, since it takes up to four months, most coaching seasons are over before the results come in.
When I started asking some hard questions, none of the RCMP with whom I spoke could give me a good reason for why they were doing this. The most information I got was from a friendly receptionist who offered to make me a copy of a handout, which explains that, "This is a more rigorous process intended to protect our most vulnerable citizens from anyone with a history of sexual offences who has changed their name." She unpinned a news article from a corkboard and offered to copy that also.
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