Background checks in Canada: The new basics
When employers tell job-seekers that they’ll be requiring a ‘background check’, many people assume that this is just a quick check to make sure they don’t have a criminal record. But ‘background check’ is just a sort of umbrella term for a whole lot of different types of information searches that an employer (or volunteer center, or any organization to which you give permission) can undertake.
What’s the difference between a ‘background check’ and a ‘criminal check’?
Generally speaking, a ‘background check’ refers to any services conducted related to screening. This may involve education and credentials verification (did you go to the school you said you did, and did you get the degree or certification you said you did), work history verification (have you in fact worked where you said you did) and reference checking. It can also involve services like SIN verification, drivers abstracts, credit history, – the kinds of things that can confirm you are who you say you are, and that you have been truthful on your resume.
The ’reference check’ often conducted by potential employers generally involves a third party or your company HR department contacting the references you’ve provided from former or current employers to confirm your employment, your role, your responsibilities and how you conducted yourself.
A criminal check in Canada looks for the existence of criminal convictions, and are conducted by local police agencies, who then provide a ‘clear’ or ‘not clear’ result. Specific details of criminal convictions can only be verified with an additional self-declaration form completed by the Applicant or by fingerprint verification submitted to the RCMP directly with a local police service.
What are the different kinds of Canadian criminal checks available?
There are 3 levels of Criminal Record Checks in Canada:
- Standard Criminal Record Check (CPIC)
- Criminal Record with Judicial Matters Check (CPIC + PIP) (Enhanced check)
- Vulnerable Sector Check
Third Parties are only allowed to conduct the first 2 types of checks (#1 & #2).
In Canada all Criminal Record data is housed in RCMP databases; police services search national police databases as well as their own local records when conducting criminal record checks. Third party organizations will not be provided with the specifics of an individual’s criminal convictions/history; if there is any information on file with respect to criminal convictions found, the third party will be notified simply whether the candidate is ‘cleared’ or not.
1. Standard Criminal Record Check (CPIC), using names and dates of birth is the most common way to check a person's criminal history. Name-based criminal record checks are done by checking against the RCMP's Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) system, this system will only include convictions (meaning it has been settled in court and the individual was convicted by a judge/jury). They consist of a check of the National Repository of Criminal Records based on a person's name and date of birth.
2. Criminal Record with Judicial Matters Check (CPIC + PIP) (Enhanced check) The process is the same as #1 but an additional database is verified. This database, the Police Information Portal (PIP), is a component of the National Integrated Interagency Information system, a ground-breaking information sharing initiative for police, public safety and federal agencies across Canada.
Accessed through CPIC and managed by the RCMP, PIP is a searchable index of all police agency records management systems across the country and an important means of gathering information when subjects move from one jurisdiction to another. All police agencies in Ontario publish to PIP and 171 police, public safety and federal agencies in Canada (90.48%) publish to PIP.
This level of criminal check will reveal extra information that #1 does not, such as:
- Pending charges and arrests from local databases
- Summary convictions for five years, when identified (self-declared)
- Outstanding entries, such as charges and warrants, judicial orders, peace bonds, probation and prohibition orders
- Absolute and conditional discharges for 1 or 3 years respectively
3. Vulnerable Sector Check Individuals working with, or who have unsupervised access to, children or vulnerable adults are often requested to have a VSS (Vulnerable Sector Search) check, typically in addition to a criminal check.
The VSS check involves a query of the RCMP's national criminal record database. Your information is entered into the system and a search is done with an almost instantaneous response. If your name, birthdate and gender OR your birthdate and gender are the same as someone who has received a records suspension (Pardon) for sexual offences, the RCMP will not permit the police check to proceed without confirming whether or not you are the same person. Confirmation is done by fingerprints, which are taken by the police department in the city in which you reside and then submitted to the RCMP. Third-party organizations are not permitted to undertake this part of the process.
The RCMP requires that a letter from the organization requesting the check (such as a potential employer) must accompany all vulnerable sector searches. Results are only releasable to the Applicant.
Do I need a Vulnerable Sector Check?
Due to changes to the law that took effect March 13th, 2012, record suspensions (formerly referred to as pardons) are no longer granted for the types of convictions that are included in the pardoned sex offender database.
Under the Federal Access to Information Act, it has been verified that the age of the youngest person in the sexual pardon database was born on February 28th, 1986.
What does this mean? For applicants born after February 28, 1986, a search of the pardoned sex offender database will always yield a negative result. For all applicants born before February 28, 1986, this applicant group should be directed to their local police service to initiate a Vulnerable Sector Verification.
What do you need to know about VSS?
In 2016, the government advised the Federal Ministry of Public Safety to ‘reinterpret’ the way matches are returned. For example, in cases where an applicant was convicted of a sexual offense against an adult rather than a child, the VSS check will come back ‘clear’. The RCMP, among others, has publicly taken issue with this ‘reinterpretation’ because it can provide a false sense of security when screening people to work with children and other vulnerable populations.
While a VSS check may provide a minimal level of confidence, in cases where the applicant will be working closely with vulnerable populations for extended periods, our recommendation, particularly for individuals born after 1986, is to conduct an Enhanced Criminal Records check, which searches for more records (criminal convictions, as well as sexual offenses, pending charges, charges that did not result in convictions and probation orders) and thereby provides a more accurate assessment of a given individual’s history and current status.
Will I know if my background is being checked?
Yes. Potential employers, or anyone else requiring a background or criminal check, must obtain informed consent waivers in order to undertake any background checking. Typically, separate waivers are required for reference checks (in which you provide the reference names and contact information, and permission to contact those people); background checks (for which you are typically required to provide your full name, date of birth and SIN (if credit/verification is required); and criminal checks (for which you are required to provide specific permission in addition to any permissions you may have given for other checks). Vulnerable Sector Searches require additional consent to serach this database.
Will I know the results?
Background checks: Most employers don’t take the time to share the details of background checks, especially if there are no red flags raised (a potential employer is unlikely to call you to say, “We found out you do, in fact, have a BA from Queens”).
Reference checks: Most potential employers don’t bother to share the results of reference checks – if they go well, they offer you the job; if they don’t, you might never hear why. The best option is to get in touch with the people you listed as references and ask if they’ve heard from a potential employer or third-party reference-checking company.
Criminal checks: Most employers won’t take the time to let you know you ‘passed’ a criminal check, since you already know you haven’t got a criminal record. They may let you know if something comes up on your record that they find concerning.
Vulnerable sector record checks: Because of the detail involved in these checks, and because they are typically only done for specific employment or volunteering purposes, you will know the results.
Who can conduct reference, background and criminal checks?
In Canada, any company conducting reference and background checks must have signed permission from the Applicant in question.
To perform name and date of birth-based criminal record checks of the RCMP’s Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) system, companies like Profile must enter agreements with municipal police services, which involves being vetted, licensed, and audited.