Monday, 30 June 2014

Airport wait prompts thoughts of police files

It hit me as I waited in line at US Customs and Immigration at Pearson airport in Toronto.

Would I be refused entry to the United States for some long past indiscretion of my youth?

Being refused entry into the United States becoming a more common experience, these days. Recent border agreements have allowed the sharing of police data bases to American authorities. This only came to light when several people attempted to enter the United States were refused because of previous interactions with the police. No criminal charges were ever laid, but because of that interaction, which was related to mental health, the person was denied entry.

I racked my memory for any slight offense. I haven’t had any significant interactions with police over the years.

OK, I’ve had a couple of speeding tickets and one serious motor vehicle accident nearly four decades ago which resulted in a charge. But what about all those false 911 phone calls of a few years ago, where my telephone was ghost dialling 911 and I ended up in a months-long surreal experience where no one believed that it really was software in the telephone company’s computer that was calling 911?

Maybe. But you never know.

I am required by the United Church of Canada to have a valid police records check every three years. The United Church has had that requirement in place for almost two decades.

The first one came back with no interactions or convictions. Then the church required a Level 2 vulnerable sector check. It came back with no interactions and convictions, as well.

Most recently, these reports have included not just convictions but all charges and all interactions with police, whether charges were laid or not.

In addition, a check of the national sex offenders data base is also required. Many have discovered that they have the same birth date as a person in that data base, requiring them to be fingerprinted (at their cost), have the fingerprints read by the RCMP (again at their cost) before finally being excluded from consideration.

In addition, employers and professional bodies are using police record checks to qualify applicants for admission to training programs. Unfortunately, people who had a minor interaction with police when they were a teenager, which resulted in no charge or conviction, are being stopped from secondary education or professional licensing.

Police record checks can’t predict the future. They do not predict future behaviour and can not tell an inquirer if someone has any kind of problem. They are a huge burden to the police records system and are a means of generating income for cash-strapped police services. The charge in Owen Sound is $50 for a level 2 vulnerable sector check for employment purposes.

On the other hand, police record checks can be a reason for further conversation within an organization.

I know that in the United Church our police records checks are not exclusionary. They are reason for further conversation. A minister, for example, arrested in a G20 protest in Toronto four years ago would not have a reason to be excluded from ministry if that were to show up in a police record check. On the other hand, a conviction of drunk driving would cause conversations to be had and a determination to be made.

I was admitted to the United States that day and went on to my conference. But the question remains, "What do the police have on file about me and with whom do they share it?"

It’s a question we should all ask and try to answer.



Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County, Cable 53.