Good morning, everyone. This is meeting number 54 of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. Today is Tuesday, February 15, 2011.
Before we introduce our guests this morning and the topic to our committee, I would say that we're going to have an opportunity to see lots of you today. This committee meeting will go until 11 a.m. and then this evening we will meet until 11 o'clock tonight. We will have dinner coming in tonight.
One of the things that our clerk has done, because there are a number of witnesses who we have invited for tonight, is he's going to pass around a listing sheet of those who have been invited, just to let you know at the present time where we are on answers to our invitation to appear. There are a few who have declined, and until we get the final numbers my understanding is our clerk will be continuing to follow up on some of these today. So this will change, but this will at least give you a bit of an idea, an indication of who will appear this evening on Bill C-59.
This morning we are here and we are having a briefing on the Canadian Police Information Centre, commonly known as CPIC.
Appearing as our witnesses we have, from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Peter Henschel, assistant commissioner of the forensic science and identification services; Charles Walker, director general of the Canadian Police Information Centre, forensic science and identification services; and Guylaine Dansereau, director general of the Canadian criminal real time identification services, forensic science and identification services.
Our committee wants to thank you for responding to our call to appear. It was a motion that was brought forward, I believe by Madam Mourani—not a motion, but at least a topic. And I think it's a topic that interests all of us here today.
We appreciate your attendance. I'm not certain if you have an opening statement that you'd like to give, a little bit of a briefing on the good work that you do. Then if you would entertain some questions, we would be very appreciative.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak before this committee today.
I am pleased to appear before the committee in my role as the assistant commissioner, forensic science and identification services. My area of responsibility includes two key services that are the primary focus of today's committee hearing, the Canadian Police Information Centre, known as CPIC, and the Canadian criminal real time identification services, which we call CCRTIS.
Accompanying me are Chief Superintendent Charles Walker, director general of CPIC, and Ms. Guylaine Dansereau, director general of CCRTIS.
I would like to begin by clarifying the roles of CPIC and CCRTIS for the committee.
CPIC is a system that stores and retrieves law enforcement information submitted by authorized agencies. The CPIC system allows authorized police services to access several databanks primarily for law enforcement purposes. One of these databanks is the national repository of criminal records, which contains criminal record data maintained by CCRTIS. The repository contains approximately 4.1 million criminal records, and more than 500,000 criminal record files are updated and maintained annually by CCRTIS.
CCRTIS provides Canadian law enforcement and judicial services with certified criminal record products that meet a high standard of quality and certification. As criminal records are an integral part of law enforcement and the criminal justice system, they must be maintained with a high degree of accuracy and security.
Additionally, over the last decade criminal record checks have become an essential component in civil screening applications such as employment, vulnerable sector positions, adoptions, and travel documents such as visas. In order to better manage and facilitate the civil screening process, many organizations have also engaged the services of third-party companies to act as intermediaries.
The increased reliance on criminal records for criminal justice and civil screening purposes and the requirement for timely responses place an enormous burden on the national repository of criminal records, which was a paper-based manual system. As a result, a major Crown project, called Real Time Identification, or RTID, was initiated to automate the criminal record system.
While the development of RTID continues, significant components of the criminal record system still require manual processing, which is time- consuming. Additionally, the national repository of criminal records also has a significant backlog of criminal record files awaiting updates. Although the RCMP has allocated as many resources as we can to this important function, the backlog continues to present significant challenges.
Other factors have contributed to the length of time it takes to complete civil screening applications. In late 2009, CPIC audits revealed that some Canadian police agencies were disseminating criminal record information, obtained form CPIC, in contravention of the Criminal Records Act, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the 1987 Ministerial Directive on the Release of Criminal Records, and CPIC policy.
As a result of these breaches, the RCMP issued a directive to all Canadian police agencies to abide by federal legislation, policy and directives. Although this change had an impact on the criminal record check practices of several organizations and increased the time required to complete some civil screening processes, it was necessary to ensure compliance with the law, the protection of personal information and the accuracy of the verifications.
In January 2010, the RCMP established a working group that included representatives from Canadian police services, federal and provincial public safety departments, and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. The goal of the working group was to develop potential strategies to reduce the length of time required to complete civil screening processes. On August 4, 2010, following these consultations, the Minister of Public Safety issued the ministerial directive concerning the release of criminal record information by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. This directive focused on safeguarding the release of criminal record information while still allowing police agencies to work with 30 civil screening companies through memoranda of understanding.
In consultation with the federal-provincial working group, the RCMP subsequently issued a new policy to implement the ministerial directive. The policy includes a new option for individuals to self-declare criminal records for name-based criminal record checks and vulnerable sector verification. This measure significantly reduces the requirement for individuals with criminal records to submit fingerprints. The requirement for vulnerable sector verification is to be completed by the police service of the local jurisdiction where an individual resides. There are also standardized processes for releasing criminal record information to individuals. And there is a requirement for the submission of fingerprints for certified criminal record checks and for incomplete name-based criminal record checks and vulnerable sector verifications.
One of the most important aspects of civil screening is the safety and security of vulnerable persons. Vulnerable persons, as defined in the Criminal Records Act, “are in a position of dependence on others; or are otherwise at a greater risk than the general population of being harmed by persons in a position of authority or trust relative to them”. As such, police and public safety officials across Canada have a special responsibility to ensure their safety.
In July 2010, the RCMP became aware that pardoned sex offenders who had obtained illegal name changes could potentially avoid being linked to the pardoned sex offences during the vulnerable sector verification. To address this issue, the CPIC system was enhanced and now requires individuals to submit fingerprints during vulnerable sector screening if the individual's gender and date of birth matches a pardoned sexual offender record. This does not suggest that the individual has a criminal record or has been pardoned for a sexual offence. Rather, it is a mechanism to confirm identity and to establish that the person does not have a pardon for a sexual offence.
It is important to note that the fingerprints are used by CCRTIS to confirm the identity of the individual and are immediately destroyed once the verification process is complete. While this process has caused frustration, it is necessary for preventing a pardoned sexual offender who has legally changed names from gaining access to vulnerable persons. The only alternative would be to require fingerprint submissions for every vulnerable sector verification, a process that would overwhelm the current manual system.
Although this change to CPIC was necessary to better protect vulnerable persons, it clearly resulted in unintended consequences. Prior to this change, CCRTIS received an average of 130 fingerprint-based vulnerable sector verifications a month, which were all processed as soon as they were received. Since the change was implemented, CCRTIS is receiving an average of 7,675 fingerprint-based vulnerable sector verifications a month, a 5,900% increase.
Despite redeploying additional personnel to process these verifications, we are not able to maintain our previous turnaround times, as the volume of transactions exceeds our capacity. The result has been that it can currently take up to nine weeks before we're able to process a paper-based fingerprint verification. We believe that this delay is unacceptable, particularly when an individual's employment depends on a vulnerable sector verification and the individual does not have a criminal record or a pardon for a sexual offence.
As such, we examined alternative approaches to streamline and shorten the process. Last October we modified the real-time identification system to enable policing partners to electronically submit fingerprints for vulnerable sector verifications via live scan devices. They can also receive responses electronically. This RTID enhancement significantly reduces or eliminates the wait times. For example, when an individual does not have a link to a criminal record or a pardoned sexual offence, which is the case in 85% to 90% of cases, the electronic fingerprint submission and response can be completed in under five minutes. Currently more than 20 police jurisdictions in Canada are connected to the RTID system for vulnerable sector purposes, and the number of electronic fingerprint submissions are steadily increasing.
Nevertheless, only about 15% of fingerprint submissions for vulnerable sector verifications are currently submitted electronically. We continue to work with our policing partners to encourage them to invest in RTID technology for the electronic processing of civil fingerprint submissions. It is our belief that the long-term solution for civil screening is to make all vulnerable sector screening fingerprint-based once police services have had the opportunity to connect to RTID.
Meeting the safety and security needs of the Canadian public and our policing partners is of great importance to the RCMP, and we will continue our efforts to provide efficient and high-quality certified criminal record products to our clients.
We appreciate the opportunity to meet with the committee today on this important topic and hope that these opening remarks have helped to clarify some of the intricate and complex processes involved with criminal records and civil screening.
We look forward to answering any questions that you may have. Thank you.
It would be important to differentiate a couple of things here.
First of all, if the person doesn't have any fingerprint holdings at all, then if we're doing the electronic submission it's going to be very fast, as we discussed.
I don't know that we can give you an average of what it would be right now, because under the vulnerable sector we have all these fingerprints that were sent in manually, and as I mentioned, it's taking nine weeks at the current time before we can manage them.
But again, in the 85% to 90% of the cases in which people don't have a record, the process is actually very quick. In fact, in most cases the police wouldn't even submit fingerprints, because they can do name-based checks. If they do have to submit fingerprints, if they do it electronically it would be very quick. The situation in which it will take longer and in which this 120 days normally comes is when the person has a record; then it means that we actually have to do some checking. We have to go back sometimes to the originating police agency, because we may have not received the disposition; we may have to go to the courts; we'll also have to check what is in our holdings that are not up to date yet.
That process will take longer, and it's fair to say that it could easily take up to 120 days. But this is, again, for a relatively small percentage of the population and concerns people for whom we have fingerprint holdings.