Calgary car dealership brings controversial child-fingerprinting program to the city

Calgary car dealership Charlesglen Toyota has recently brought a fingerprinting program to the city that aims to keep children safe from abductors.

But questions have been raised about the effectiveness of Operation Kidsafe, and the fact that it has been pitched by its Illinois-based creator as a business opportunity for car dealers.

The program provides parents with a free printout featuring their child’s fingerprints and a photograph.

Charlesglen community relations manager Natasha Richardson said the dealership is sponsoring Kidsafe because it fits in with their “family philosophy.”

But until recently Kidsafe’s website has also marketed the program as way for dealerships to receive free press.

The website stated that, “This event delivers huge amounts of free press Community Relations manager Nashtasha Richardson is photographed while explaining how the Operation Kidsafe fingerprinting process works at Charlesglen Toyota Scion.

Photo by Anup Dhaliwal

and a showroom full of parents in a great mood because the dealer is doing something potentially lifesaving for their children.”

In an interview with the Calgary Journal, Consumers’ Association of Canada president Bruce Cran took issue with that statement.

When asked about how the program was being marketed, Cran called the website “questionable,” stating “a lot of companies do the right thing for the wrong reasons.”

But Operation Kidsafe founder Mark J. Bott said, “If I was charging $25 per family that’s questionable. We do nothing but take care of families 100 per cent at no charge, and do not database or take the name of a child.”

He said the only reason he seeks out car dealership sponsors is to keep the program “free to the community.”

“Someone has to pick up your air fare, your hotel and the sponsors do that for us,” Bott added.

Nevertheless, he said dealers “have asked me for years to have a separate page that parents land on – not the sales page, and I think that is something we need to do. It’s not something to hide things from parents.”

After Bott was contacted by the Calgary Journal, the website was revamped, and its sales pitch tone eliminated.

Charlesglen business manager David Richardson said he sees nothing wrong with how the program has been marketed on the website and said that Operation Kidsafe leads to a win-win situation for families and for the company offering it.

But Mount Royal University Justice Studies professor Tanya Trussler warns the program may give a “false sense of security. It makes us think we have something we don’t.”

According to Trussler, that is because fingerprints can be of limited use in tracking down missing children and their abductors.

Bott said the professor is both right and wrong.

“If a parent is only relying on fingerprints to find their child, then they do have a false sense of security,” he said.

But Bott stated the fingerprinting system is one piece of armour parents have to protect their children.

He said they should also keep their child’s DNA, have a family action plan and provide safety training for their child.

adhaliwal@cjournal.ca