Optimist Club volunteers in Hawkesbury are reluctant to sign on to the municipality’s new volunteer policy, says club president Benoit Paré.

Members of the club have volunteered at Old Mill Park for about seven years, said Paré, but have now been asked to fill out an application form to become volunteers for Hawkesbury.

The application form, shared with The Review by Paré, asks for a driver’s license number, and whether the applicant has “ever been convicted of an offence under the Youth Criminal Justice Act or adult law.” Three references are also requested.

Paré said his club has its own $11 million insurance policy, which covers its volunteers. He said the club’s volunteers object to signing onto Hawkesbury’s policy, and would prefer to remain volunteers for the club only. The Optimist Club does its own screening of potential volunteers, he said.

Insurance concerns

At Hawkesbury’s regular council meeting on Monday, January 16, Juanita Morris of BFL Canada, an insurance company, answered questions about the implications of having volunteers from a non-profit install an ice surface and sliding hill at a municipal park, as members of the Optimist Club have done at Old Mill park for several years.

She said having a contract between Hawkesbury and any non-profit providing volunteers for the municipality would be “critical.”

However, she said once a contract is in place, if a group installed an ice surface, it would not be the responsibility of the municipality. The group would need to be insured and would be responsible for making sure it was safe. The ice surface would not have to be checked or supervised by Hawkesbury employees, she said. However, it would be important for the group to have an appropriate insurance policy. If someone was injured skating on the rink, and the group’s insurance had lapsed or was not sufficient, Hawkesbury could still be held liable. “If you’re as little as one per cent liable you can still be held for the whole amount” in certain situations, she said. Responding to a question from Mayor Jeanne Charlebois, Morris said Hawkesbury could require a club to share screening information about its volunteers, “but that is not an insurance requirement, per say.”

Paré said his club would be open to negotiating a contract between the Optimist Club and Hawkesbury.

Volunteer policy

The new volunteer policy was adopted in late 2016. The policy says its goal is to “create volunteer management practices that will manage risk, enhance program delivery, and protect volunteers, staff and the general public from harm; ensure volunteers are effectively recruited, coached and supported while performing their volunteer functions; and provide guidance to staff to encourage positive volunteer experiences.”

A process of screening volunteers, including an application form, interview process, and criminal and reference checks is detailed. An ethics guide asks volunteers to “refrain from public criticism of other volunteers, staff, participants and services,” including on social media, and to “avoid involvement in any form of self-employment or private business which competes with programs or services delivered directly by the Town of Hawkesbury.”

A Hawkesbury press release from January 18 announced a new volunteer recruitment campaign. “The Town of Hawkesbury created the new Volunteer Management Policy in order to encourage citizen engagement and to offer better guidance to its volunteers,” is says. The recruitment campaign is related to Canada 150 celebrations planned for Hawkesbury – one of its goals is to recruit up to 150 volunteers. Volunteers are needed in a variety of areas, according to the press release, including in the area of facilitating activities for youth in parks and after school. There are also opportunities for sports instruction, as well as in security, sports instruction, and logistics during Canada 150 celebrations.