|TORONTO - “It fell through the cracks.”
That’s how city parks and recreation general manager Jim Hart explains how Christopher Husbands, the alleged Eaton Centre shooter, was able to work with kids as a city recreation employee for more than six months without a criminal record check.
The admission comes in the wake of a story by the Toronto Sun revealing Husbands was a part-time employee in a kids’ after-school program up until two weeks ago.
City officials and politicians stressed Wednesday the city’s policy of giving parks and recreation workers a three month grace period before having to provide a criminal background check has been scrapped.
Hart said he believes there are other recreation employees working for the city right now who have yet to provide a criminal background check but he stressed they are scrambling to fix the situation.
“What will happen right now and it has started as of (Tuesday), we’re checking every single file to make sure we’ve got a criminal background check on file for every employee that requires one,” Hart said. “Where we don’t have it, we’re going to be chasing them down starting (Wednesday).”
Hart said any employees yet to hand over their criminal record check and who still delay in handing one over with be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
Officials were blunt when asked to explain how Husbands — who has a 2008 drug conviction and was under house arrest for a 2010 sexual assault charge that is still before the courts — was able to go more than six months working at Stan Wadlow Clubhouse in East York without providing a criminal record check.
“Quite frankly, that fell through the cracks,” Hart said. “We followed up on a monthly basis with staff in the field, after three months sent out lists to follow up and this one wasn’t followed up, it’s as simple as that.”
Hart admitted he’s “not very happy at all” that this “fell through the cracks”.
“I suspect there will be others that when we uncover and turn over every stone there will be others that fell through the cracks and I’m not pleased with that at all,” he said. “That’s why on a go-forward basis we have to make sure we get these documents in place before the individual starts and not chase them after the fact. If you chase them after the fact, things will fall through the cracks.”
The city had the three-month grace period for criminal record checks because the turnaround time for individuals to get the information back from police was six to 12 weeks.
Hart did confirm Husbands was fired by the city.
“Mr. Husbands was terminated,” he said.
Mayor Rob Ford said he was very upset to hear Husbands was working for the city without a background check.
“It’s very disturbing,” Ford said. “I wasn’t aware they didn’t do background checks. I think every employee no matter where they work in the city should have a background check.”
Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, chairman of the city’s community development and recreation committee, said he’s “furious” at the city’s bureaucracy for letting Husbands work more than six months without providing a criminal record check.
“That’s changed immediately (Wednesday),” he said. “We’ve gotten staff to agree to change the policy so on an on-going basis anybody hired has to give us those forms before they step foot (on city property) as an employee.”
Mammoliti said it’s the employers’ responsibility to ask for a criminal record check.
“Why do you wait three months before you deal with it?” he said. “I cannot tell you how upset we are about what has happened.”
At Wednesday’s city council meeting, Toronto city councillors will also order a review of the city’s policies when it comes to police background checks on employees who work with kids and other vulnerable populations.
Councillor Janet Davis will ask city council to order city manager Joe Pennachetti to work in cooperation with Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair to review the city’s current police record check policy and report back in September.
If council approves the move, city staff will also be given the green light to “take any necessary action in the interim period” to tighten up the current rules.
Davis — whose ward includes the Stan Wadlow clubhouse where Husbands worked — said she is concerned the city has all the appropriate measures in place when it comes to employees working with vulnerable individuals.
She said it was “very disturbing” to learn the accused shooter had been working with children in her ward.
“What has happened raises very serious questions about the police record check policy and procedures at the city,” Davis said. “This council should get answers, is our policy adequate? Is it being implemented properly? What happened in this particular situation? And how do we prevent it in the future?”
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