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How to become a licensed private investigator

Region: Ontario Answer # 1000

To work as a private investigator in Ontario you must have a valid licence issued by the Ministry of the Solicitor General &. The MSG is responsible for overseeing the private investigation industry, which is governed by Ontario’s Private Security and Investigative Services Act, 2005 (Act). In addition to licensing requirements, the Act sets out rules and regulations, as well as a Code of Conduct that private investigators must follow. As of January 2017, there were over 2,200 licensed private investigators in Ontario. It is very important to get the right training to become a licensed private investigator .

To get legal advice with regards to setting up a private investigation business, ask a lawyer now.

Why are private investigators required to be licensed?

Obtaining a licence requires private investigators to understand the legal elements of the job and helps to ensure that they are committed to acting within the law. Furthermore, learning the rules and regulations of the industry, which are required for licensing, will help ensure that private investigators avoid breaking the law and being charged with an offence while in the course of doing their job.

Who can become a private investigator?

To be eligible for a private investigator licence, you must:

  • Be 18 years of age or older
  • Be eligible to work in Canada
  • Have a clean criminal record

What if I have a criminal record?

Under the Act, “a clean criminal record” is defined as:

Whenever a new private investigator licence is applied for, and whenever a licence is renewed, the MSG requires that a police records check is conducted. The Act lists approximately 200 offences under both the CC, and the CDSA that render a person ineligible for a private investigator licence.

If the applicant has a criminal charge, or a conviction for which a pardon (now called a record suspension) has not been granted, their application will likely be refused. Persons who have been convicted of, or charged with an offence that is not listed in this regulation might still be eligible for a licence. However, the MSG will need to review their file to determine if they are eligible. If you have ever been charged with a crime and fingerprinted, the best course of action is to have the record removed.

Steps required to be licensed as a private investigator

Once a person has met the eligibility requirements, there are three steps that must be completed to become a licensed private investigator:

1.  Basic training course

Basic training courses must be a minimum of 50-hours and must meet other MSG guidelines. Basic training courses are offered at a number of institutions including universities, colleges, and licensed private investigation services.

It is important that you ensure the institution is approved by the MSG so that you will be eligible to apply for your licence once the course is completed. The basic training course can be taken in a classroom or online.

The training material is extensive and includes topics such as:

  • Introduction to the industry
  • Criminal and civil law
  • Investigative techniques
  • Self-management skills
  • Communication and interaction key principals

Once the basic training course is successfully completed, the applicant will be issued a certificate of completion. The certificate contains a completion number, which will be needed to register with ServiceOntario to schedule the licensing exam.

2.  Licensing exam

The purpose of the licensing exam is to verify that the applicant understands the material learned during the basic training course. The exam consists of 60 multiple-choice questions. Exam results are normally available within two days of taking the exam.

The exam is administered through the MSG testing provider, Serco, and conducted at DriveTest centres across Ontario. Visit ontariosecuritytesting.com for more information and a list of testing locations.

3.  Apply for a private investigator licence

After you complete the basic training course and successfully pass the exam, you can apply for your private investigator licence. The application is made through ServiceOntario, either by mail or online.

In order to process your application, ServiceOntario is required to collect personal information about you in order to add the correct details to your private investigator’s licence. This includes your name, address, and testing completion number.

Along with a completed application form, you must also include:

  • a completed Guarantor Information Form
  • a passport-quality photo
  • photocopies of two (2) valid identification documents (front and back)
  • the application fee

It can take up-to 10 days for your application to be approved. In many cases you will have the option to receive your licence in digital form, which can be sent to you as soon as your application is approved. It can take up-to 8 weeks to receive your hardcopy version in the mail. You must carry your licence while on duty and show it to anyone who asks to see it.

What is the cost of obtaining a private investigator licence?

There are several fees associated with becoming a private investigator and obtaining a private investigator licence:

  • Basic training course fee $250-$500. The fee varies depending on the instructor and company offering the course
  • Exam fee
  • Licence fee $80.00

Will I need to renew my private investigator licence?

In Ontario, a private investigator licence must be renewed every two years. It will expire two birthdays after the day it was issued. It should be renewed at least 30 days before it expires in order to continue to legally work as a private investigator.

To renew a licence or restore an expired licence, you must submit an application through ServiceOntario. It is the same application that is used to apply for a new licence.

Note that the testing requirement for obtaining a private investigator licence in Ontario came into effect in 2010. Therefore, if your licence expired before 2010 and you have not yet written a private investigator exam, then you will be required to write one before you can apply to renew your licence. For more information on how to apply for your private investigator’s licence, visit ServiceOntario.

What if my licence expires and I continue to work as a private investigator?

If you work as a private investigator while your licence is expired you could be charged with a violation under the Act, and if convicted you could receive a fine of up-to $25,000, imprisonment for up-to one year, or both.

My private investigator licence is from another province, do I still need an Ontario licence?

Even if you hold a valid private investigator licence from another Canadian province or territory, you will still require an Ontario licence to legally work in Ontario. However, if your licence was issued to you after successful completion of training and/or testing you may be exempt from having to complete the basic training course and writing the exam in Ontario.

Licensing for private investigation agencies

Note that there are different licensing requirements for a business providing private investigation services, as opposed to applicants applying for an individual licence. Under the Act, agencies are referred to as “licensed business entities”.

Businesses applying for a private investigation licence must provide other documentation, depending on the legal structure of the business: sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation. This may include:

  • a signed partnership agreement (if applicable)
  • consent to background check for the sole proprietor or for each officer, director and partner of the agency
  • for new agency applications, upon approval (in principal) of application, a valid certificate of general liability insurance must be submitted within 30 days
  • a master business licence (if applicable)

If an agency’s application is successful, it will be contacted by a Compliance Inspector within 30 business days to schedule an inspection of the agency to ensure it fully understands its responsibilities under the Act.

The application form and fees will also be different for an agency licence. However, just like a licence for an individual, agency licenses must be renewed every two years. For more information, visit the Ministry of the Solicitor General.

Registering as an employer with the MSG

After obtaining its licence, an agency must register as an employer with the MSG online at ServiceOntario. The agency must register the names, individual licence numbers and licence types for each employee working for it as a private investigator. Registrations are valid for one year and must be renewed annually through ServiceOntario.  This information is added to the MSG online Private Security and Investigative Services Licence Registry where people can search for information on an individual’s or agency’s licensing status.

Council of Private Investigators of Ontario (CPIO)

While there is not a private investigation association or society that investigators must belong to, many do become members of the Council of Professional Investigators of Ontario (CPIO). CPIO is a non-profit organization whose membership consists of private investigators who are licensed by the Province of Ontario, are insured and who adhere to the By-laws, Code of Ethics and Privacy Policy of the Council. Private investigators must pay CPIO a membership fee to be a part of their organization.

Get help

To get legal advice with regards to setting up a private investigation business, ask a lawyer now.

To have someone conduct a background check and for other investigation services, contact our preferred Investigators:

Smith Investigation Agency


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