I was just forced to be fingerprinted to prove I’m not a sexual offender..

I just wrote that headline and I still can’t process this whole thing. Here’s the backstory..

I’m beyond thrilled at being chosen to participate in a ‘leg’ of the Canada C3 voyage. That’s the 150 day expedition from Toronto to Victoria,via the Northwest passage, on a research vessel, designed to celebrate Canada and connect the country. It left from Toronto on June 1st. It’s an awesome opportunity of which I am thrilled to take part. I’ll join for leg 5 in St. John’s Newfoundland and Labrador and be on board for 11 days, at which time we’ll continue the mandate of the journey which will explore the four themes of Canada 150. Those are Diversity and Inclusion, Reconciliation, Youth Engagement and the Environment. The ship is loaded with scientific experiments, and makes stops at festivals and events along the way. It’s by no means just a ‘cruise’, but a working, learning and exploring environment. I’ll be joined on board by scientists, athletes, politicians and young Canadians to name a few. Every leg, I believe, will take 20 Canadians from different walks of life. In order to take the journey, all those going were rightly required to get a police check. I’ve been through these before and it’s just a routine and practical precaution that those running the expedition, in this case the Students On Ice Foundation, require. No problem.

I headed down to the Charlottetown Police station last week and got the required forms and returned them with the required information. You had to fill out two forms, one giving basic consent to do a criminal check and another which allows them to do a search for those convicted of a sexual crime but had received a pardon. This part was required because I would working and interacting in and around vulnerable people. I was told it was routine for all who where looking to get a police check, so I signed the form to allow the process to be completed in every way. No problem. BIG problem.

I got a call today from the police telling me there was an issue with the ‘sexual crime pardon’ part of my check. What? I was informed that someone in this country, someone, somewhere, with the exact same birth date as me, had been given a pardon for a sexual offense, and I had to come down and be fingerprinted, so those prints could be sent to the national data bank in Ottawa to prove that person, pardoned for a sexual crime, wasn’t me. Wait, what? I admit to being in a bit of a state of shock at this point. I said, didn’t my background check reveal that I had never been pardoned of any crime? No, when you’re pardoned, the slate is wiped clean so they can’t tell if I was ever pardoned or not. Only the national fingerprint data bank in Ottawa can prove you were never pardoned, and they do that by checking your finger prints against those on file of the actual sexual offender who was pardoned. I said, well, I was never pardoned. They said, well, we can’t prove that. Oh, and its going to cost you $20 for the fingerprint procedure. So, let me get this straight. I have to pay to prove I’m not a sexual offender. That’s correct.
So, guilty until proven innocent. Is that a stretch?

I had a lot of questions. It appears that prior to 2010, the national registry for those convicted of a sexual offense and then pardoned, contained name, date of birth and fingerprints. On at least one occasion, someone changed their name, and did not notify the proper authorities, and re-offended. From that point on, the name portion of the data base was reduced to just date of birth and fingerprints, to avoid the calamity of having someone outsmart authorities with a simple name change.
So, this I get. What I don’t get is why local authorities are shutout of the information regarding pardons relating to sexual crimes. What if someone re-offends, but the arresting force didn’t know there was an offense to begin with? In time they would find out, but not immediately, which you’d think they would like to do. I was told that once you’re pardoned of any crime, all information relating to that crime is wiped. It can’t be picked up on background checks. In the case of a pardon for a sexual offense, if a match on the date of birth comes up, that information is shown, but the message is simply the person applying for the background check needs to be fingerprinted and those prints shipped to the national data base. So when it comes to sexual crime pardons, does Ottawa think local law enforcement officials can’t keep a secret? On a very crude and simple level, yes it seems that way.

So now I am in the waiting phase, which will take 7 to 10 days at which time the police here will inform me of the all clear. But don’t get me wrong, they very fact you’ve been fingerprinted for something you didn’t do, is unnerving and creates a lot of uneasiness. What if they make a mistake in Ottawa? What if it comes back and says it’s me? Believe me, all the ‘what ifs’ go through your mind.

After going through the process, my single biggest question is this. Why are people who have been convicted of a sexual offense getting pardoned in the first place?

On Twitter: @jeffhutcheson

On Instagram: jeff.hutcheson

Check out the Canada C3 website: http://www.canadac3.com

Representation: Dan Champagne