Criminal Record Checks – A Discussion For Every Sport Organization

Published January 7, 2016

Are Criminal Record Checks (CRCs) really necessary? Since they take time and effort for a volunteer to obtain, and they cost money, this is often the preliminary question that sport organizations discuss. Follow-up questions in the discussion are even more complex. Questions such as:

  • What types of CRCs are there? Which type(s) do volunteers need to obtain and why?
  • How does a volunteer get a CRC? Do they need to visit a police station?
  • How often does a volunteer need to obtain the CRC? Once? Annually? Every three years?
  • Can a volunteer submit the same CRC for multiple sports?
  • Should the sport organization pay for the CRC on behalf of the volunteer?
  • What does the organization do with the CRC? Keep it? Give it back? Destroy it?
  • What happens if the CRC turns up an infraction? Can the person still volunteer?

There has been a lot of buzz about CRCs (sometimes called ‘Police Record Checks’ (PRCs)) recently, even more so than when we last focused a blogpost on the topic in 2010. In this new blogpost, we’re aiming to update sport organizations’ knowledge of CRCs, help the CRC discussion go smoothly, and guide organizations toward making decisions appropriate for their volunteers.


Screening will not uncover every potential sex offender - but every volunteer should still be screened. Volunteer Canada’s 10 Steps of Screening is still an excellent resource that all sports organizations should read. To summarize, CRCs are but a part of the overall screening process. Volunteers should be interviewed, submit an application along with references, receive orientation and training, and then receive support and supervision once in the position.

Organizations should be able to answer the following questions to a parent or member of the media:

  1. Did we do everything possible to create a safe environment?
  2. Can we sleep at night knowing that we’ve done everything reasonable?
  3. What is our response to a victim, their parents, or the media if something happens?

Not all volunteers need to be screened the same way. A parent who volunteers to drive athletes to a single competition does not require the same screening procedures as a coach who interacts frequently with young athletes. Organizations will often develop “Low Risk, Medium Risk, High Risk” levels for volunteers and assign different screening methods to each level. Typically, the “Medium Risk” and “High Risk” levels will require the volunteer to obtain a CRC. But there are different types of CRCs…

Criminal Records

Many organizations will be familiar with, an online third-party platform that allows the applicant to pay a flat fee (currently $59+tax) to obtain a Criminal Record Check. The usual check performed by this process searches the RCMP National Repository of Criminal Records by searching for an individual’s name and date of birth. This check only searches the records for criminal convictions for which a pardon has not been granted. If the search returns a match, the individual possibly has a criminal record, though the exact details will not be provided and must be obtained from the local police service.

On December 10, 2015, the Coaching Association of Canada (CAC) announced a partnership with SterlingBackcheck, Canada’s leading third-party screening provider (and parent company of, to provide an Enhanced Police Information Check (E-PIC) to coaches from organizations that have partnered with the CAC. The E-PIC is currently being offered for a flat fee of $25+tax.

The E-PIC searches the same RCMP National Repository of Criminal Records, but adds additional checks of local police information within multiple databanks. The E-PIC might find matches with outstanding charges, warrants, probation orders, recent convictions, and summary convictions. Frequently asked questions about the CAC-SterlingBackcheck partnership, and the E-PIC, are located here.

Vulnerable Sector Verification

A vulnerable sector verification (VSV) (sometimes called a ‘vulnerable sector check’) is a detailed check that includes a search of the RCMP National Repository of Criminal Records, local police information (both checked by the E-PIC), and the Pardoned Sex Offender database.

The Pardoned Sex Offender database lists every individual who has received a pardon for certain sex-based offenses. What is a pardon, exactly? It’s not so much a ‘pardon’ but rather a ‘record suspension’. An individual with a criminal record can apply to the Parole Board of Canada to have their criminal record kept separate and apart from their other records. When making this application, the individual has to demonstrate that they have paid all fines and penalties, served their sentence, not had any contact with police for five or ten years, and have become a law-abiding citizen. Between 2000 and 2012, individuals with a sex-based conviction who successfully received a ‘record suspension’ were placed in the Pardoned Sex Offender database.

Following legislative changes in 2012, sex offenders who committed their crimes against children (or while they were in a position of authority) can no longer receive a record suspension. Their criminal records (for sex-based offenses) will be kept with their other records and can be checked by a regular CRC. This means that the Pardoned Sex Offender database is a “static” list. New names are not being added.

We know that the Pardoned Sex Offender database has roughly 14,000 names and the youngest person on the list was born on February 28, 1986. Anyone younger will not be on the list and will never need to obtain a VSV!

Obtaining a VSV?

The cost and time to obtain a VSV depends on the individual’s local police service – there is no national standard. Another drawback of the VSV is that it only searches for a person’s gender and date of birth. If an applicant matches with someone in the database, they will need to be finger-printed. According to SterlingBackcheck, there have been close to 100,000 individuals fingerprinted and only 0.1% of individuals were a match. Further, of the 2.3 million people who request a VSV every year, there are fewer than 100 fingerprint-verified matches to the Pardoned Sex Offender database (0.005% annual hit rate).

Despite the low hit rate (and the time, effort, and cost to obtain a VSV), some organizations may still choose to include the VSV in their screening processes. After all, convicted high profile sex offender Graham James was able to obtain a record suspension. In fact, it was the outcry over this pardon that sparked the legislative changes in 2012.

Provincial Differences

Adding to the variables, each province has different methods of disclosing criminal records and record suspensions, and they have different privacy concerns (especially British Columbia – see [1]). The Province of Ontario recently introduced the Criminal Record Checks Reform Act, 2015 which, when passed, will limit the disclosure of some information that would qualify under ‘local police information’ (part of the E-PIC). Some contact with police that may have been previously disclosed under an E-PIC, like a suicide attempt or a charge for which there was no conviction, will no longer be disclosed. However, a vulnerable sector check may now reveal these records.

Consider, in the past, that a regular CRC in Ontario searched the RCMP National Repository of Criminal Records and, depending on the source from which the CRC was obtained, local police information. In the past, a vulnerable sector verification added a search of the Pardoned Sex Offender Database. Now, if the new Act passes, parts of ‘local police information’ will be added to the material only searchable by a vulnerable sector verification. These parts include non-conviction offenses, court orders, and other miscellany. A detailed chart of the differences is here. Remember, the chart only applies in Ontario when the legislation passes. Other provinces have different approaches.

Answering Questions

An organizational discussion about CRCs is necessary and unavoidable. But, with the knowledge above that you’re now equipped with, here is some guidance to the questions introduced at the beginning of this post:

  • What types of CRCs are there? Which type(s) do volunteers need to obtain and why?

The main CRCs relevant to the sport sector are (a) the regular criminal records check, (b) the vulnerable sector verification (which includes the criminal records check), and (c) the E-PIC (which does not include vulnerable sector verification). Depending on the organization’s position, the province, and the role of the volunteer, an individual may need to obtain either (a), (b), or (c).

  • How does a volunteer get a CRC? Do they need to visit a police station?

The regular CRC can be obtained online through third parties (like To obtain a vulnerable sector verification, the volunteer will need to contact (and perhaps even visit) the local police service.

  • How often does a volunteer need to obtain the CRC? Once? Annually? Every three years?

The frequency that volunteers must obtain CRCs is at the discretion of the organization. One option may be for an individual to obtain the CRC when they first begin to volunteer, then every three (or five) years afterward. Alternately, the organization can have the volunteer sign a form stating there has been no change in their criminal record since the first check. The organization should reserve the right to ask for a CRC at any time. Once an individual obtains a vulnerable sector verification for a position, there is no need to ever obtain that check again for that position.

  • Can a volunteer submit the same CRC for multiple sports?

For coaches in the organizations that have registered, the CAC-SterlingBackcheck partnership may permit a single E-PIC to be available for multiple organizations and in multiple sports to view a completed E-PIC online. Other third parties (such as also permit the sharing of the completed CRC multiple times.

  • Should the sport organization pay for the CRC on behalf of the volunteer?

Depends on the capacity of the organization. The CAC-SterlingBackcheck partnership ($25+tax per E-PIC for coaches) provides options for both applicant-pay and organization-pay. The cost of vulnerable sector verifications varies widely depending on the local police service (e.g., $70 in Saskatoon, $25 in Edmonton, free in Ottawa).

  • What does the organization do with the CRC? Keep it? Give it back? Destroy it?

CRCs obtained via third parties remain online and accessible for a certain period of time. Physical copies of CRCs that are handled by an organization should be kept confidential and personal, and kept only for the amount of time that would be needed to verify a volunteer’s criminal record status (such as the period of time between organizational-mandated CRC renewal, if any).

  • What happens if the CRC turns up an infraction? Can the person still volunteer?

Yes.  A drunk driving conviction from 2004 should not necessarily disqualify an adult from coaching children in 2016. But the organization should employ its other screening tools (i.e., interview, references, training, etc.) or conditions (e.g., the individual cannot drive athletes) when making decisions on a specific individual.

Final Considerations

Does the Sport Law & Strategy Group recommend that sport organizations require its volunteers to obtain criminal record checks and/or vulnerable sector verification? It depends.

In many “Medium Risk” and “High Risk” volunteer positions the individual should be required to obtain a criminal record check and even some “Low Risk” positions may need a criminal record check. Further, we certainly support the CAC-SterlingBackcheck partnership that provides an efficient and inexpensive criminal record check (the E-PIC) for coaches.

The vulnerable sector verification is trickier. We know that any volunteer who is born after February 28, 1986 does not need the VSV, and neither does anyone who has obtained it for the same position in the past.

When making the decision whether an individual should be required to obtain a vulnerable sector verification, an organization should consider:

  • Organizational values
  • Recruitment status of volunteers
  • Cost and effort needed to obtain the VSV from the local police service
  • Frequency of the individual’s contact with children
  • New standards being required by similar organizations
  • Opportunities the individual has to be alone with children
  • Other screening tools already in use
  • Common sense

Some organizations may prefer a “one size fits all” policy and require every volunteer working with children to obtain a vulnerable sector verification. Other organizations may only require a narrow subset of its volunteers to obtain this check. Still other organizations may only require a volunteer to obtain the vulnerable sector verification if there are ‘red flags’ in the volunteer’s actions or other screening results. The organizational discussion still needs to occur – but we hope this blogpost has contributed to focusing the conversation.

Please let us know if you have any questions about this blogpost or if you need assistance developing or updating your organization’s screening procedures.


[1] British Columbia legislation requires individuals working in a vulnerable sector to undergo a criminal record check. These checks are offered freely to volunteer organizations registered with the Criminal Records Review Program (CRRP). The process is different in BC than it is for any other province and some of the information in this blogpost does not apply to organizations in BC.

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