How was a man convicted of assault able to work in close proximity to children? — A question many are asking after learning that alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur worked as Santa at Agincourt Mall as recently as 2016.
McArthur was convicted in 2003 for assaulting a man with a metal pipe two years prior – a charge that would show up in a criminal background check. The Agincourt Mall told CityNews McArthur was hired through an event management company who they believe required background checks. They did not reveal the name of the company, citing advice from their lawyers.
Criminal lawyer David Butt says working with children, the elderly or other vulnerable populations usually requires more than a criminal record check.
“A criminal record check will only reveal criminal convictions,” says Butt. “If somebody wants to work in what’s called the ‘vulnerable sector’, then the check will dig a little bit deeper and if there are serious concerns — it may not have lead to a conviction, but are nonetheless serious safety concerns — they would be flagged in a vulnerable sector check”. Butt adds that a record suspension, formerly known as a pardon, could also show up in such a check, but only if it was “reasonably related to the vulnerable persons sector.”
A vulnerable sector screening is used when hiring teachers, coaches, daycare workers, nurses, those involved in elder care and other similar positions. But children’s entertainers aren’t legally required to get such a check as a condition of employment since the business isn’t regulated in Toronto.
In 2011, a petition was brought before city council to regulate children’s entertainers but the city decided against it, saying “there is insufficient evidence that the business of children’s entertainment poses a risk to children.” They also argued that since the city only licenses businesses, regulations would not cover independent operators who they said make up a “significant portion of children’s entertainers.” In addition, the city said that Municipal Licensing and Standards does not have access to extensive vulnerable sector checks — only the employer or hiring agency does.
David Usher, owner of Stage Entertainment, who did not hire McArthur says that while his hiring process is informal and usually by word-of-mouth, he requires annual vulnerable sector checks for everyone he hires — even if they’ve been working with the company for decades. He believes it’s essential to have a consistently clear record, especially when it comes to working with children, and that the city should make it a requirement.
“There should be some type of bylaw put in place…the minimum (requirement) should be a vulnerable sector check,” says Usher. ” Even though it’s a very intense check — when dealing with kids…you want to go to the furthest extent.” Usher adds that the onus to ensure a clear and current vulnerable sector record should not only be on the agency hiring children’s entertainers, but on the individual as well.
“Right now, because there’s no law concerning this, agencies a lot of the time just do whatever they feel like doing,” says Usher.