Area of Law: Private Investigation
Answer # 1006
How to make a complaint about a private investigatorRegion: Ontario Answer # 1006
Who can file a complaint?
Any member of the public may file a complaint against a private investigator or an investigation agency, if they believe the investigator or agency has violated the laws set out in the Private Security and Investigative Services Act (PSISA).
In addition to setting out the rules that private investigators must follow, the PSISA also contains the procedure for making a formal complaint against an investigator.
Who are complaints made to?
Complaints must be made to the Registrar of the Private Security and Investigative Services Branch at the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services (MCSCS).
Who can a complaint be made about?
The MCSCS will review complaints against:
- licensed private investigators
- licensed agencies, including sole proprietors, partners, and in the case of corporations, its officers and directors
- individuals or agencies not licensed by the MCSCS
What can a complaint be about?
The MCSCS will review complaints against an investigator or agency, if the behaviour complained of falls within any of the following three categories:
- Breach of the PSISA Code of Conduct regulation while on duty,
- Failure to comply with the PSISA, or its regulations, or
- Breach of a licence condition.
The types of violations could include an investigator:
- operating without a licence or not producing their licence when asked
- using excessive force
- using profanity or abusive language
- not acting honestly or with integrity
- being under the influence of drugs or alcohol while on duty
- carrying a badge or other symbol of authority
- pretending to be a police officer or engage in behaviour that is related to police work, such as making an arrest
- referring to him or herself as an officer, detective or private detective
- using the words police or law enforcement when talking about their work
Complaints that the MCSCS does not deal with
Employment and labour related complaints
Complaints about employment issues, such as wages, layoffs, and wrongful dismissal are not under the authority of the MCSCS. If you are an employee of an investigation agency and you have an employment or labour issue, refer to the Employment Law section of Legal Line.
Regardless of whether you are the subject of an investigation, or an employee of a private investigation agency, if you feel that a private investigator or agency is committing a crime, such as breaking into private property, stealing mail, or hacking into someone’s private electronic communications or bank accounts, you should contact the police.
How to make a complaint
It is very easy to file a formal complaint against a private investigator. Simply complete and submit a Public Complaint Form with the MCSCS. The form can be found and completed online. However, you will need to then print the form, as it requires your signature. Any complaint related to a PSISA Code of Conduct violation must be filed within 90 days of the alleged incident.
Complaints can be submitted to the MCSCS by mail, fax, or email. There is no fee to file a complaint.
You will need to provide the following information on the complaint form:
- your information in the ‘Complainant Information’ section
- details of the complaint
- name of the private investigator, and/or agency
- names of witnesses, along with their addresses and telephone numbers
- date and your signature
Hiring a lawyer to represent you when making a complaint
The complainant can hire a lawyer or agent to file the complaint and represent them in the facilitation process. Similarly, the investigator can also choose to be represented by a lawyer or agent. Each party is responsible for his or her own legal costs.
What happens after a complaint is received?
The MCSCS will send the complainant an acknowledgement letter within 15 business days of receiving the complaint. After reviewing the complaint, the MCSCS will decide if further action is required.
Depending on the circumstances, the MCSCS may:
- instruct the investigator/agency to stop the actions which are being complained about, referred to as a ‘cease and desist’ letter
- investigate the complaint
- begin a facilitation, which could result in conditions being placed on a licence
- revoke the private investigator’s licence
- inspect the agency
- refer the matter to the police where criminal charges may be laid, or to a more appropriate office or ministry
- dismiss the complaint, where the MCSCS finds that there has been no violation of the PSISA or its regulations
Investigations – violations of the PSISA
The MCSCS will review the complaint and may subsequently begin an investigation. While a complaint may concern an alleged violation of the PSISA, its regulations, or a breach of a licence condition by an individual private investigator, the employer of the investigator may also be investigated.
Inspection of an agency
If the complaint is about the conduct of a licensed agency, the agency may be subject to a Compliance Inspection. In addition, even if the complaint is about an individual private investigator, the agency may also be inspected.
Facilitation process – breaches of the Code of Conduct
If the MCSCS determines that the complaint is about a breach of the PSISA Code of Conduct, it will be forwarded to a facilitator for resolution. This process is only used when the complaint is against an individual that is licensed as a private investigator. The following steps are then taken.
1. A facilitator is assigned
A facilitator will be assigned to the case. The facilitator will send a letter to both the complainant (individual who made the complaint), and the investigator (the person against whom the complaint is made, often referred to as the subject of the complaint). The letter will inform the investigator about the complaint and explain that their participation in the facilitation is mandatory. This letter is very important, as the investigator may be unaware that a complaint has even been filed.
2. Facilitation meeting
A facilitation meeting will be scheduled to attempt to resolve the complaint. The meeting will be conducted in-person or by teleconference, and will include the facilitator, the complainant and the investigator.
3. Facilitator submits report
Once the facilitation is completed, the facilitator will send a report of the results, along with any recommendations, to the Registrar of the MCSCS. The Registrar will review the report and act on the facilitator’s remedial recommendations (if any). A remedial course of action is corrective in nature and the Registrar will make such requirements a condition of the investigator’s licence.
4. Recommendations made by the facilitator
A facilitator’s recommendations may include training in:
- anger management,
- race relations,
- communication skills and/or interpersonal relations.
Revocation of licence and request to be heard
If the investigator or agency that is the subject of the complaint fails to meet the Registrar’s conditions, the Registrar may decide to revoke the investigator’s licence. Prior to doing so, the Registrar will send a notice to the investigator.
If the investigator does not agree with this decision, he or she can then make a request for an Opportunity to be Heard before the Registrar within 21 business days of receiving notice of the proposed licence revocation. During the hearing, the investigator will be given an opportunity to show why the Registrar should not revoke the licence.
Referral to police
Along with losing their licence, an investigator who is found guilty of committing an offence under the PSISA, and who refuses to adhere to the corrective measures imposed by the Registrar, could also be charged by the police and receive a fine of up-to $25,000, and face up-to one year imprisonment, or both.
Can a complaint be withdrawn?
A complainant may formally withdraw their complaint at any time before a decision is made. The withdrawal must be in writing, state the reason for the withdrawal, and be signed by the complainant. The withdrawal must be submitted to the Registrar, either in person, by mail, by fax or by email.
Notwithstanding that the complainant has withdrawn the complaint, if the MCSCS believes the investigator or agency may, in fact, be in breach of the PSISA, then the investigation, inspection or licence revocation will continue. However, if the MCSCS does pursue the matter, the complainant will not be part of the enquiry or given any information after they withdraw their complaint.
When is a complaint dismissed?
The MCSCS does not pursue every complaint it receives. After reviewing the complaint, the Registrar may dismiss it, if they believe it to be frivolous, vexatious or not made in good faith, such as complaints that are:
- lacking a reasonable purpose,
- made with the intent to harass or annoy,
- made with the intent to deceive or mislead, or
- made with an improper purpose or ulterior motive.
What if the subject of the complaint cannot be found?
If the investigator or agency that is being complained about cannot be contacted or will not participate in the facilitation process, the Deputy Registrar will send a notice advising the complainant that the facilitation will not proceed. However, the MCSCS may pursue an investigation, inspection or licence revocation.
For more information about filing a formal complaint against a private investigator or agency, visit the MCSCS website.
To have someone conduct a background check or other investigation, contact our preferred Investigators, Smith Investigation Agency .
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