Wednesday, January 9, 2013

TPS, You've Got Some 'Splainin' To Do

As I've mentioned in this blog several times, I am training to be a Volunteer for the Toronto Zoo. I have four classes left and at the end of that time I need to put in a few more hours of training before I can lead a tour on my own. One would think that would be the toughest part of this whole venture, but one would be very, very wrong. For, you see, I also have to pass a police background check—supposedly at the "Vulnerable Sector" level—before I can be entrusted with the leading of young people into pavilions. Fair enough: I've already gone through this procedure twice before in order to coach peewee hockey and, much earlier than that, to volunteer at my kids' schools. On those occasions, I paid a small amount of money and filled out a form; the organizations took care of the rest and that was the end of it. But not the Zoo, oh no. This has to be done on a whole other level which is making me now wonder exactly how much information they are trying to find out about me before allowing me to perform a non-paying job for them.

It started out innocently enough. All of us new trainees were given forms and explanation sheets on our first day of class and there was someone from the Zoo staff to sign the forms with us as a witness. Dutifully, off I trundled—though, admittedly, I did put it off for a while because I did not want to make the trip downtown—to the Police Headquarters on College Street where I lined up for the opportunity to be out-of-pocket once again for a volunteer position. (A quick side note: at some point in my life I would like to volunteer my time for some organization that recognizes that my time alone should be enough for them and they can cover the expenses of having me sign on with them out of their own budget. But I digress....) Once I reached the counter, I was told that the form I was presenting was "incomplete" and that the Zoo staffer had not signed enough times. I briefly argued that the "witness" line at the very bottom of the form seemed to me to be a place for the person receiving the application from me to sign, but realized the futility quite quickly, took the form and left. When I was next at the Zoo I spoke to the woman who had originally signed the forms for us. She said she had never had to sign there before and, in point of fact, of the thirty-two separate forms she had to fill out on that first day, mine was the only one to be rejected. But she signed the form again anyhow and I went back downtown over the Christmas holidays, on December 27th. This time I was "allowed" to pay my $19 or whatever it was for them to process this request, was informed that it would take six to eight weeks to receive a reply (sheesh) and went back out into the crowds, having now paid twice to park downtown (the subway round trip would have been no cheaper).

And that brings us to today.

Today I received a hand-addressed envelope from the "Toronto Police Service" which was mailed yesterday, or a mere seven working days after I dropped off my search application. Intrigued, I opened it up to find two pages stapled together. The top one was a message from TPS informing me that "Based on a name and date of birth search...we require elimination/verification of a Criminal Record through [italics are mine] fingerprint results received from the RCMP." I was warned this could happen; in fact, a couple of my classmates had had to go through the same procedure. I'm not sure how deeply the Zoo is trying to get into my background, but I have never had to perform this sort of activity before in any previous "Vulnerable Sector" search, so it's a little jarring. It's also not free. I am being instructed to contact a "private fingerprinting agency that is accredited with the RCMP for a "Criminal Record Search'", which, again, seems a little over-the-top for what we intend to be doing at the Zoo. It's getting to be expensive to Volunteer there and I haven't even had to buy my "uniform" yet. Furthermore, if I go ahead and have this done I obviously then have to wait until I get those results back in the mail (from the RCMP) and then take those results back to the Toronto Police and re-apply, and then wait another six to eight weeks to get the results back. The pandas might be in Calgary before this whole nonsense has ended.

But it gets even better.

At the end of this letter it says, "Once you have received results...send the original result letter along with the [underlines are theirs] original consent form which was previously sent back to you...". "Previously sent back" to me? This was the first I had heard of this extra step. But wait! There's a second page attached. And it looks like an original copy of a Police Reference Check. I'll bet that's what they mean. So let's have a look at this...uh....hang on...

This isn't my original form. It belongs to someone else.

Yes, you read that correctly. The Toronto Police Service—the freakin' police—have sent me the private and personal information of someone who isn't me. I have his name, address, phone number, date of birth and driver's licence number in my possession. It's a good thing there's no way I'm a criminal, right? Oh, hang on...they don't know one way or the other because they still have to fingerprint me. Well. That's awkward. And then it hit me: this probably also means that some complete stranger has exactly the same information about me and they haven't been fingerprinted yet, either. So there's that, too. You know all those warnings about "Identity Theft" you keep hearing, including from the Toronto Police themselves? Guess it's not as much of a problem as they would have you believe, because if it was then what the hell are the police doing mailing my private information to someone that they haven't ruled out as a criminal? Or a total stranger's information to me, for that matter? [n.b.: Identity Theft is a serious problem. The previous three sentences were sarcasm, just to be clear.]

I am seething mad right now. Just absolutely bloody enraged. I don't know exactly how I am going to progress from here, but you can be damn sure it won't be quietly (as I've already proven by posting this, I guess). I might contact the papers; I might contact my city councillor and some of the Police Board members; I almost certainly will be seeking legal advice. One thing I've been advised to do by a couple of people is contact the Police Ombudsman; however, I can find (so far) no way of doing so without making a phone call and I am not going to be doing that. I want all of this matter to be addressed in writing because if the Toronto Police are capable of messing this up so badly already then I need to protect myself from here on in.

But there is one immediate and tragic potential casualty of this whole mess: I may not be able to Volunteer at the Toronto Zoo after all, because there is no way in hell that I am allowing my fingerprint records (nor the results of any records search) to be mailed anywhere whatsoever after this debacle today. Add to that the fact that my form—now twice-submitted—has gone missing and I have no idea if it will ever turn up again. I think the Fates might well be shouting in my face here. If the Zoo can't come up with a better plan then they may have to live without me.

Which would be a bloody shame for absolutely everyone involved.


I've kept my comments open and moderation-free for many years, but I've been forced to now review them before they post due to the actions of one member of my family. I apologize for having to take this stance, but that's the way the world is headed, sad to say. Thank you for your understanding.

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