Janny Lee was shocked this week when she received a letter from Humber College, where she is pursuing a nursing degree, informing her that she would have to withdraw from the clinical portion of her program by Monday. The reason? The College has yet to receive her criminal record check, despite the fact she applied for it in mid-July. Dozens of students received similar letters, but the College is now backtracking, recognizing that there has been an uncontrollable delay affecting several Ontario colleges.
In previous years, the eight weeks Lee allowed for her background to be checked would have been more than enough time. This year, because of a regulatory change that prohibits third-parties from performing criminal checks, thus placing the responsibility solely on the RCMP, it can take as long as four months for records to be retrieved.
Criminal record checks are compulsory for nursing students to be placed in a hospital or for an early childhood education student to be placed in a daycare.
Initially, Lee was furious because she may have had no choice but to dropout out for a year. “We weren’t notified about the change,” she said.
At first, Andrew Leopold, a spokesman for Humber, said the situation was out of the College’s hands. “It’s an RCMP responsibility,” he told Maclean’s on Wednesday. But, by Thursday afternoon, the College was preparing to send another letter to students, informing them that even if they haven’t received their police check, they may still be allowed to continue on in the program. Students will be required to sign a declaration affirming that they will have a clean record, and meet with the agency responsible for placing them in a clinical setting. “We will work to support the students,” Leopold said. But “the final decision is at the discretion of the agency.” If an agency won’t accept the compromise, the College says it will work with students on a “case by case” basis.
At least two petitions had been circulating among students to convince the College to reverse its decision. Lee had contacted Rosario Marchese, the NDP Member of the Provincial Parliament who represents her riding to express her concerns. Marchese was going to hold a press conference on Friday, but Lee says that is no longer necessary given that the situation is being resolved.
Disallowing third-parties from performing record checks is an attempt to close a loophole that could see sex-offenders receive a clean check if they changed their name. The RCMP will be cross-checking all requests for record checks against databases for birthdays and other biographical information. If there is doubt as to the identity of an individual, they will be called in for fingerprinting. Four times as many people have been called in to verify their identity this year compared to previous years.
About 80 Humber nursing and early childhood education students are still awaiting their police checks. The delay is also impacting students at several other Ontario colleges, including George Brown College and Centennial College.