How to Complete Background Checks in Canada

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Employers, landlords and the like often require a background check to confirm an applicant’s identity and determine if the person presents any kind of risk. Many people assume that a background check is a one-stop search that turns up all the relevant details about a person, but that’s not true. It’s really just an umbrella term for all sorts of different searches that must be pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle. In many cases, the most important search is the criminal records check. In Canada, this can only be carried out by local police agencies.

What Does a Background Check Entail?

No single definition of “background check” exists, and the information discovered really depends on who is performing the check and what they are screening for. Employers, for example, will focus on credentials, education and work-history verification, and they are likely to take up an applicant’s references from current or former employers. A landlord, on the other hand, will be more interested in credit checking to ensure the prospective tenant can pay the rent and will talk to former landlords.

Before purchasing a background check, then, it’s essential to know what’s included. Common searches include:

  • Social Insurance Number (SIN) Verification and a driver’s abstract search to confirm the person is who they say they are.
  • Credit report to check for late or missed payments, debt loads, bankruptcies, foreclosures, liens, judgments and the like.
  • Criminal history check, which shows arrests, convictions, incarceration records and other court documents.
  • Vulnerable Sector Record Check, which is essential for job applicants who will be working with or who have unsupervised access to children or vulnerable adults. This check looks for prior sexual offenses.

Who Can Conduct Background Checks in Canada?

It’s not possible for just anyone to run a background check on a person of interest. In Canada, anyone conducting background checks of any type must have a signed permission, also known as an informed consent waiver, from the person being searched. In practice, this means that only people acting in an official capacity may perform background screening, such as employers, landlords, leasing agents, lenders, attorneys and government agencies. For everyone else, the only real option is to do some amateur sleuthing online.

How to Get an Official RCMP Background Check

In Canada, criminal background and Vulnerable Sector searches are conducted by local police agencies who access the Canadian Police Information Centre, a database of criminal activity maintained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The RCMP network is the only database in Canada that has access to criminal records.

To run a search, interested persons must contact their local police agency, fill out an application and pay the appropriate fee. The application is rather convoluted, and it generally will require:

  • A signed and witnessed consent form. This consent form is different from the general consent that allows employers to request references, for example, since it must clearly indicate that a criminal record check is being requested. The witness must supply two pieces of government-issued ID.
  • Fingerprints to confirm the person’s identity, if requested by the local police agency. Police agencies do not offer fingerprinting services themselves and may refer applicants to an accredited fingerprinting agency.

The search itself will come back with a “clear” or “not clear” result. Obtaining specific details of past criminal activity requires a second application directly with the municipal police service.

Working With a Third Party

Some licensed and accredited third-party agencies like Profile have a signed agreement with local police agencies that allow them to search the RCMP database directly – for a fee. For most businesses, this is the quickest and most cost-effective search option, since professional search agencies also can handle the other searches that may be required, including credit checks and identity verification.