Are divorced or separated parents allowed to be Scouters?
Last month, a Scouter's membership was suspended when Scouts Canada saw that the member's Police Record Check disclosed what was taken by the Scouts Canada bureaucracy to be a "restraining order" against the member. However, the "order" was only a standard clause that often appears in child custody orders.
Scouts Canada Policy 3001.1 prohibits membership by persons with "contact, access or behaviour restriction(s)". The Police Record Check process now includes a Vulnerable Sector Check, which, among other things, looks for court orders lodged in family court proceedings.
The Scouter in question, who was divorced, had learned that his three children were being physically abused by their step-father. The Scouter went to court and obtained custody. The Court included in the custody order the standard clause: "that neither party shall molest, harass or annoy the other or the children in their lawful custody". This clause appears in about half of all child custody orders. There were no contact or access restrictions, since the order granted custody to one parent with reasonable access provision for the other. No behaviour restrictions were specified pertaining directly to any named individual.
This fall the Scouter, a member for many years, needed to file an updated PRC. The Scouts Canada bureaucracy, with its "no hit" policy, sent the Scouter a letter, signed by the Council Commissioner, indicating that the member did not qualify for membership. The Scouter sought the assistance of a lawyer who was able to have the decision reversed.
There are probably a few thousand Scouters in Canada who could potentially be effected by this misinterpretation of the PRC. Many Scouters might not seek to have the decision reversed because they may unquestioningly accept their suspension at face value or, because of the insult, would refuse to seek redress. Scouting could lose out on many talented adult volunteers.
If your membership has been suspended or terminated because of a provision in a custody order, do not take it at face value. Contact the Executive Director responsible for your council and explain the situation. Showing a copy of your order will help the Executive Director understand the context. If this does not clear it up, seek the assistance of a lawyer.
As we all appreciate, Police Record Checks are an essential part of the screening process. They should, however, be used with discretion, reason, and justice to ensure that they are a tool for screening out unsuitable volunteers, not a blunt instrument that brings Scouts Canada into disrepute.