Criminal background checks - should you do them?

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When you are looking for new members of your team, it’s important to ensure that you are hiring the best candidate for the job. For certain positions you may want to screen your final candidates with a criminal background check, but the question is do you really need to? 

Criminal background checks, also known as Police Record Checks, are a search of police records on a particular individual. They are used a lot for volunteer work or in business as part of an employment application.  

These checks include: 

  • Any applicable criminal convictions
  • Guilty convictions under the federal Youth Criminal Justice Act
  • Vulnerable Sector Check: includes items from a Police Record Check as well as
    • Findings related to not being criminally responsible due to a mental disorder
    • Record suspensions (pardons) related to sexually based offences
    • Information related to non-conviction charges when a strict test is met

Should you do a criminal background check for your next hire? 

Pre-hiring background checks in Canada are permissible. However, criminal background checks can raise human rights and invasion of privacy issues for employers. For most positions, a prior employment check will be sufficient to pre-screen a prospective employee.

To obtain a criminal background check, you must first be able to establish that there is a valid occupational requirement for doing so. The job application and/or conditional offer must clearly state the check is necessary as part of the position sought.   

You must always obtain written consent before doing any kind of criminal background check on a prospective employee.

It is illegal to single out a particular candidate for a background check, so it is always best to perform a background check only after a job offer has been presented. 

PLEASE NOTE: Employers are legally entitled to ask job applicants about convictions under the Canadian Criminal Code for which they have not been pardoned. They can also ask about convictions for provincial offences such as speeding or securities violations. This is not the same as a criminal background check.

Criminal background checks can be performed by private investigators or the RCMP. Some will need to involve the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) where certain pardons have been obtained. The search can be performed based on a candidate’s name, birth date and, for greater assurance, fingerprints.

Other places that most criminal background checks can be done are: 

  • municipal police service
  • a First Nations police service
  • the Provincial Police
  • a private business that is authorized to provide police record checks

Typically, there is a fee associated with these checks. If they are done with the RCMP there is a fee of $25 for each criminal record check, however, there are instances when this fee is waived. There may also be a federal processing fee. 

The fees at private businesses vary, but on average they start at $50 per record plus applicable taxes. 

IMPORTANT: In many provinces, you cannot refuse to employ someone convicted of an offence, unless you can prove it has a direct impact on the person’s ability to do the job.   

Tips on doing a criminal background check:

  • Ensure it is a bona fide occupational requirement of the position.
  • Obtain candidate’s written consent to obtain a background check (which may include finger printing).
  • Let applicants know what kind of information you are looking for and why.
  • Start your search early so you have enough time to make your decision.
  • Keep all details on the background check confidential.

CFIBs Business Advisors are available to you should you have any questions about this process or wish to speak about your situation in more detail. Do not hesitate to reach out! We can be reached by calling 1-833-568-2342 or emailing 

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