Area of Law: Private Investigation
Answer # 1002
Types of investigations that private investigators are legally allowed to doRegion: Ontario Answer # 1002
What are the most common types of investigations conducted?
To work as a private investigator in Ontario and legally carry out investigations, an individual or business must be licensed under Ontario’s Private Security and Investigative Services Act. It is very important to get the right training and qualifications to become a licensed private investigator . Specifically, a private investigation license is required to:
- conduct background checks – obtain and provide information on the personal character or actions of a person,
- obtain and provide information on the business character or kind of business or occupation of a person,
- search for offenders against the law,
- search for missing persons, and
- search for missing property.
Finding missing persons
Private investigators are often hired to find persons who are missing, either intentionally or unintentionally. This might be because: they owe or are owed money, they are part of a criminal investigation, they are involved in a court case, or they simply cannot be found.
Missing persons investigations often include finding:
- a past tenant who owes rent, or money for damaging property
- a former spouse for child support
- a defendant in a court case
- a contractor who was hired to do work but disappeared before the job was completed
- adopted children and adults who want to find their biological parents
- an employee suspected of workers compensation fraud
- an individual suspected of criminal behaviour
- someone who was named in a Will
- someone believed to have defrauded or scammed you out of money
- a family member or old friend
Child custody investigations
When spouses do not agree on the issues of child custody and access, the court must decide. The judge must consider only the children’s best interests when making a decision. A parent may hire a private investigator to find evidence proving the other parent or guardian is unfit, or a child’s safety is at risk.
Finding missing property or assets
Investigations may be conducted in order to locate missing property or assets, including real estate. This often happens during a divorce proceeding when one spouse is hiding assets from another spouse, or when an ex-spouse is trying to collect unpaid child support.
Asset investigations are also requested by:
- someone entering into a business relationship
- an individual who is owed a debt
- businesses or corporations doing due diligence
A private investigator is 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.
Background checks are conducted for a number of reasons. The most common include:
- employment and volunteering
- child custody disputes
- individuals entering a new relationship, or before signing a marriage contract
- when considering a new investment or business partner
- during a civil case, or criminal investigation, such as fraud, or identity theft
What types of investigative techniques can be used?
Private investigators use many different types of surveillance and research tools to gather evidence, find missing persons, or collect information on businesses and organizations.
Surveillance and evidence gathering techniques include:
- background checks
- skip tracing
- witness locating and statements
- video surveillance
- audio surveillance
- personal observations
Private investigators conduct their surveillance at any time of the day or night, and at many different types of locations, such as shopping centres, places of employment, and sports arenas.
Other methods private investigators use to gather information include:
- Public databases and Internet searches to find telephone numbers, addresses, and employment information,
- Public libraries to find old newspapers for information on crimes and accidents, notices of bankruptcy, marriage, engagement, birth, death, memorials and probate notices,
- Personal Property Security Registration (PPSR) searches to identify a lien associated with an individual or business, or collateral that is shown as a security for payment of a debt, and
- Bankruptcy records, divorce records, land registry databases and corporate searches to conduct background inquiries.
Working undercover means working discreetly and remaining undetected. While not commonly done, an investigator will work undercover when all other investigative techniques have been used but were not successful.
Undercover operations are commonly conducted as part of a workplace investigation, and may involve:
- employee theft, drug or alcohol use
- workplace insurance or disability fraud
- intellectual property theft
- sexual harassment
- online data theft
- unfair hiring practices
Undercover techniques include both electronic surveillance and physical surveillance to locate information and possible evidence in a case. Electronic surveillance includes the use of audio and video equipment, while physical surveillance can refer to personally observing individuals, or to collecting discarded items, such a residential waste from an individual’s garbage.
As long as an investigator follows the law, such as not recording a conversation that they are not a party to, or entering private property without permission, undercover investigations are legal.
What is an investigator not legally allowed to do?
During any investigation, private investigators must always ensure that they act within all municipal, provincial and federal laws, as well as follow the rules, regulations and Code of Conduct found in the Private Security & Investigative Services Act.
Most importantly, a private investigator cannot:
Impersonate law enforcement – Private Investigators in Ontario cannot carry a badge, wear a uniform or say anything that might imply that the private investigator is a police officer or federal agent,
Make an arrest – Private Investigators in Ontario cannot legally make an arrest. If there is evidence that suggests an arrest should be made the investigator should contact law enforcement,
Wiretap conversations – Wiretapping is illegal without a proper warrant. Private Investigators cannot tap a phone, and
Trespass – Private Investigators cannot break and enter onto private property.
For more information on specific laws governing what a private investigator can legally do, refer to answer 1001 Rules and regulations for private investigators.
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