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Private Companies vs. Police Services – The Differences in Police Screening Checks

      (there is a chart showing a comparison of reports and items below)

There are several private companies that offer police background checks, often with a very quick turnaround. But what are you getting – and what is not being provided to you? How thorough is a police check that is turned around within minutes? What kind of information was surveyed? What potentially relevant information was available but was not accessed?

A thorough police check should involve a search of several different databases, at both the national and local levels. Third-party companies only have access to the national database of criminal convictions in Canada, maintained by the RCMP. While this information is useful, it should not stop there. There can often be additional detail from local police databases that does not get surveyed in a third-party background check.

A third-party check will only reveal Criminal Code convictions for which fingerprints were taken. Some may also confirm the existence of charges before the courts that have not yet been resolved, and possibly the existence of conditions, restrictions or prohibitions imposed on the subject that are currently in effect. Some may even acknowledge the existence of a warrant of arrest for the subject if one exists. Any of this information, if present, might be acknowledged but not confirmed, as these companies do not contact individual police agencies to follow up, nor will police services provide this information to them for privacy reasons. When this occurs, they may advise the applicant to obtain this information themselves, directly from a police service. This can add considerable delay and expense for the applicant.

Municipal police departments offer the same checks, but are also able to provide additional levels of screening with more comprehensive and relevant information to help you to properly assess your volunteer or employee applicant. They will also make the effort to confirm certain information with other police services to ensure that disclosure is both accurate and appropriate.

You should also be aware that there are criminal offences for which fingerprints were not taken. This information only resides in local police files, and is not captured in the national RCMP database. Your applicant may have been convicted of a criminal offence, but a third-party company would not have access to this information through the very limited searches they are able to perform.

For example, until 2012, the offence of ‘Indecent Act’ was categorized as a summary offence under the Criminal Code of Canada. The police do not take fingerprints for summary offences. Accordingly, a person could be convicted of committing an Indecent Act, but a record of the conviction would only reside in the files of the police service that laid the charge. It would not appear in the national repository of criminal records maintained by the RCMP, and would not be included in a background check performed by a third-party company. Examples of an Indecent Act range from relatively minor actions up to and including a person who exposes themselves in public, or commits a lewd act. In the many cases we have investigated over the years, this behaviour has often been targeted at children.

Additionally, local police services may have other information on file that would be relevant to certain employers in the Vulnerable Sector. This includes matters for which the applicant was investigated but not charged, or non-criminal matters such as disputes and disturbances. There may also be certain offences under provincial statutes, such as the Liquor Licence Act, that are not captured in the RCMP database, but could be relevant to the position for which the applicant is applying.

A person may have been involved in numerous domestic disputes where police intervention became necessary. Although no criminal activity may have taken place, this could be highly relevant information for a mentoring or fostering agency that would be placing children in the home, or otherwise exposing children to potentially combative and stressful situations. It could be taken into consideration and given weight as part of the vetting process to determine if this home is a suitable environment for their vulnerable clients.

An individual may have been charged with the offence of ‘Supply Liquor to a Minor’. Again, a mentoring agency may find this important, as would a minor sporting league where this individual would be working with youth.

While non-convictions and police contact information is generally withheld from release, there are provisions under the Exceptional Disclosure Assessment where the police are permitted to include this detail in a Vulnerable Sector background check in the interest of public safety. None of this information is available in a check performed by a third-party company.

In order to ensure all potentially relevant information is made available for consideration, agencies and employers should consider the benefits of utilizing local police departments for more comprehensive screening checks on their volunteers and employment applicants. The absence of these queries may not be clearly communicated by third-party companies who do not have access to this information. You could be missing out on important details that will help you to make more informed decisions, and reduce risk.

  Appears on
Data Element Out-Of-Province / 3rd Party? Police Criminal Records
Check -PCRC
Police Information
Check -PIC
Police Vulnerable Sector
Check -PVSC
Criminal convictions from across Canada where supported by fingerprints
Criminal convictions from local databases (Service conducting screening check) - not supported by fingerprints (i.e. summary convictions)
Outstanding entries, such as charges and warrants, judicial orders, Peace Bonds, Probation and Prohibition Orders - confirmed and authorized for release by the contributing agency.
Absolute and Conditional Discharges (where disposition is still in effect).
Family Court Restraining Orders.
Charged and processed by other means such as Diversion (released as police contact only).
Dispositions including, but not limited to, Withdrawn, Dismissed, and cases of Not Criminally Responsible by Reason of Mental Disorder.
A review of all available police contacts including but not limited to theft, weapons, sex offences, or violent, harmful and threatening behaviour.
Pardoned criminal convictions for sex offences, identified as a result of a VS query, and where authorized by the Minister of Public Safety.
Convictions under provincial statutes (i.e. Trespass to Property Act, Liquor Licence Act, Highway Traffic Act, etc.).
Ministry of Transportation information (PARIS) related to non-criminal driving convictions (i.e. speeding, careless, drive suspended, etc.).
Suspect information that would hinder an ongoing investigation, or where the suspect has not been spoken to.
Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) information beyond the applicable disclosure period.
Any reference to contagious diseases.
Victim/Complaint information (unless under exceptional circumstances).
Foreign information (i.e. criminal convictions or other information from police agencies outside Canada).
Any reference to incidents involving mental health contact that did not result in a criminal charge. Very limited,
if at all