SASKATOON — Every diocese in Canada has some form of safe environment policy, put in place to maintain safeguards against the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults in the church.
Individuals who co-ordinate these policies from dioceses in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba met in Saskatoon recently at Queen’s House of Retreats. This is the third year that such a meeting has been organized.
Sharon Powell, whose work at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon includes recording and storing all of the criminal record checks and all other official documentation around the safe environment policy, played a large role in organizing the event.
“It is a gift that we — the Western Canadian dioceses — are able to join together once a year to share challenges, solutions, and hope, so that we can all work and worship in a safer environment,” said Powell.
As more people come to understand their role in creating a church environment free of abuse, the policy will hopefully become second nature, she said.
“Education is key,” said Powell. “With more awareness, people will be speaking about the protocol until it becomes a way of life and is woven into the very fabric of each community.”
Many topics were discussed at the recent Saskatoon gathering. Co-ordinators shared training material and best practices in terms of how they are implementing the policies. Many dioceses have noted a shift from initial distrust and resentment to co-operation and support.
As part of ensuring that every diocese is doing due diligence, records must be obtained and accurately kept about those who volunteer or minister to children, refugees, the elderly or any other vulnerable group, the group heard.
One speaker was the senior vice-president of Capri Insurance, Christopher Rigg from Vancouver, who spoke on many aspects of insurance policy. Rigg’s approach to the insurance side of safe environment policies was not limited to legalities but extended into a call to be pastoral and charitable when listening to accusations coming into the church.
“Studies around abuse claims have shown that people have very poor date retention,” Rigg shared. “They’ll say the abuse started when they were eight but maybe they were six. Maybe the dates don’t align, maybe the accused wasn’t in the parish yet or had already left,” he said.
“Don’t dismiss it,” he said. “The claimants need to be heard and feel heard. The insurance company is going to come in and try to continue the relationship that you started.”
Rigg noted that because the claims that come in have happened through such a broad span of time, multiple insurance companies may be involved. “The insurance companies are there to help settle these things, not to make things more difficult.”
Another speaker was the former chancellor of the Diocese of Saskatoon, Reb Materi, who spoke on the canonical implications of safe environment policies.
Barbara Raleigh-Smith, co-ordinator of volunteer screening for the Diocese of Calgary, facilitated a session on the various aspects of criminal record checks. She pointed out that it is a fallacy that all criminal record checks are created the same. Different police detachments provide different degrees of information, depending on their approach.
“The term ‘criminal record check’ refers to a background check that varies greatly in scope, according to the databases which are searched for information,” explained Raleigh-Smith. “A basic check contains less information than a police information check combined with an RCMP vulnerable sector record search. Read the fine print carefully to know what information is and is not contained in your organization’s check.”
Information potentially disclosed on a Police Information Check includes criminal records, both adult and youth at the discretion of the detachment, indictable and summary conviction offences, pending and outstanding charges, outstanding warrants for arrest, probations, peace bonds, as well as any vulnerable sector records.