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Background checks

Region: Ontario Answer # 993

Why are background checks done?

A private investigator is usually hired to conduct a background check when someone has an interest in, or a concern about the character, integrity, credibility, or financial stability of someone else.

A background check could be conducted for or by an:

  • Individual
  • Business
  • Organization

When are background checks done?

Background checks are done for a number of reasons. Two of the most common are for employment and child custody disputes. A licensed private investigator can help with these and other types of investigations.

Employment and volunteering

Employers often use background checks, sometimes referred to as pre-employment screenings, to verify an applicant’s education and previous employment history. They are also done to collect information on an applicant to ensure they do not pose any risk to the employer, other employees, and any clients.

Often, the position applied for may be one that requires high security or a high degree of trust, such as at a:

  • school
  • hospital or other healthcare provider
  • insurance company, bank or other financial business
  • courthouse
  • airport
  • retail business
  • telecommunications company
  • police or government office

Background checks may also be conducted on current employees when considering granting a promotion or reassigning employment duties.

Some businesses may require that background checks be done on individuals applying for volunteer positions that involve working with children, the elderly, the disabled, or in other vulnerable sectors.

Child custody disputes

Parents may hire a private investigator to conduct a background check to provide evidence in a child custody dispute. An investigation may uncover many factors that a court will take into consideration when determining the best interests of the child and deciding who gets custody.

Other situations when a background check might be done include:

  • to verify the credentials and suitability of a new nanny or caregiver;
  • to make sure that a fiancé isn’t involved in any criminal behaviour, drug abuse, gambling or other illicit behaviour; or has any financial troubles they are not revealing;
  • when considering a new investment or business partner;
  • to screen a potential new tenant;
  • before signing a marriage contract;
  • to confirm that someone is who they say they are (for example, when online dating); and
  • during a civil litigation trial

Business contracts

Sometimes, if the value of a business contract is large enough, and the duration of the contract is long enough, a background check is advisable before signing the agreement. This can relate to many and varied types of transactions such as the formation of corporations; buying, selling or leasing of real property; and the provision of goods and services.

What information can a background check uncover?

There are many different types of information that a private investigator can confirm in a background check, including:

  • address verification
  • identity verification
  • routines and places frequented
  • bankruptcies
  • employment history
  • education history
  • credit history
  • criminal convictions
  • property ownership
  • military background
  • tax liens
  • vehicle ownership and driving record
  • professional licenses
  • domain name ownership
  • lawsuits and judgments

How does an investigator conduct a background check?

An investigator may use a number of different methods to gather information in a background check. Information could be found from:

  • arrest records
  • criminal record checks
  • driver abstracts (history of driving record)
  • employment history
  • college/university records
  • property searches
  • credit searches
  • Internet and public record searches (marriage, divorce, birth and death records)
  • video surveillance
  • audio surveillance
  • photographs
  • personal observations
  • references
  • social media
  • newspapers
  • interviews

What information does an investigator need to conduct a background check?

Investigators will require different types of information in order to conduct a background check, depending on why it is being done and how much information is available. Information that would help an investigator conduct a thorough background check includes:

  • first and last name (or name of company)
  • last known address (residential or business)
  • last known phone number, email
  • date of birth or approximate age
  • a Social Insurance Number
  • last know employment

Is consent required to conduct a background check?

There are many public sources of information that do not require consent, such as the Internet, public libraries, driver abstracts and land registry databases. For other types of information, such as police records checks, credit checks, and personal information, such as health care records held by government offices, the individual’s consent is usually required.

Investigators must always ensure that they act within all municipal, provincial and federal laws and perform in a manner that does not infringe on someone’s privacy.

Criminal record verification

Checking police records to verify if someone has a criminal record may be required in many situations. For example, criminal records checks are often required by employers, licensing boards and educational programs. In fact, many provincial and federal laws mandate that a person have clear police records check before being admitted to various certification programs or granted licenses, such as a liquor licence, or being approved for employment, such as in nursing. If the employment or volunteer position involves working with vulnerable people, such as children, a special check called a police vulnerable sector check is required. In order for a third party to conduct a police records check on someone else, you must first obtain the written consent from the individual in question.

Driver’s record checks

Anyone in Ontario can access an individual’s driver’s record, called an abstract, which provides driver and licence details along with any criminal driving convictions. To obtain a driver abstract, the information required is the individual’s name, address and driver’s licence number.

Credit checks

Under the Ontario Consumer Reporting Act, an employer can perform a credit check on an employee or prospective employee, but only if the information is to be used for employment purposes. Furthermore, employers are required to provide written notice to prospective employees that they will be conducting a credit check.

If someone wishes to have a background check done on an individual they are considering doing business with, it is not unusual for that individual to expect that a credit check will be conducted, however, they must first provide written permission. Similarly, landlords often request permission to run a credit check on prospective tenants as part of the rental application.

Accessing government records and privacy laws

Under both the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) and Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA), consent is generally required for the collection, use and disclosure of personal information. PIPEDA applies to personal information collected by federal private organizations conducting commercial activities. FIPPA governs records held by the provincial government, designated agencies, colleges, and universities.

An individual’s right to privacy is also protected under Canada’s Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Under the Charter, “everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure”, on the basis that it violates an individual’s expectation of privacy.

Get help

For more information on what laws an investigator must follow while conducting any investigation, go to 1001 Rules and regulations for private investigators.

If you require a background check to be conducted, and for other investigation services, contact our preferred Investigators:

Smith Investigation Agency


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