Pre-Employment Screening

A recent story from Nova Scotia has focused a lot of attention on pre-employment screening and the use of polygraphs. Hopefully, it will encourage a larger discussion on both sides of the issue.

According to media reports, anybody applying for a job that falls within the purview of the Halifax Police Service and Fire Service is required to pay for a polygraph examination that includes a range of questions, some of which have been considered to be objectionable. (See the full questionnaire here (pdf).)

Others have objected to the use of a polygraph, as many assert it is not a reliable indicator of truthiness truthfulness. (If you want a refresher on how Canadian courts are to treat polygraphs, check out R. v. Béland, 1987 CanLII 27 (S.C.C.)).

The media coverage has been plentiful, from the local papers to CBC’s The National (Quicktime).
The former FOIPOP Review Officer has made his thoughts known (Ex-watchdog: Ditch polygraphs) as has his successor Dulcie McCallum (Nova Scotians deserve same privacy protection as others).

Any debate and discussion is a good thing. It should, hopefully, focus the mind on one of the principes of privacy best practices that appears in almost every public and private sector privacy law: only collect information that’s reasonably necessary for the (reasonable) purposes. If it’s not necessary or not reasonable, don’t collect it. Other important principles to consider: who has access to the information, how is it used and how long is it kept around?

And now for something completely different somewhat relevant, yet inadmissible:


  1. It adds injury to insult to require the APPLICANT to pay for the test.

  2. David: At one point the Questionaire seems to suggest that applicants need not answer all questions. Was there any other advice to applicants in other forums– application brochures or recruiting ads or otherwise — setting any boundaries on the use or storage or circulation of the information obtained? Does it make any legal difference to the information provider’s latter position, if the request for information is silent as to purpose and the subsequent use or circulation is later objected to? Is there any indication that any of this was lawyered before the application form was adopted and if so by whom? Lastly a person with questions is referred to “human resources” Is that police human resources or municipal human resources?

    Thanks for maintaining a helpful blog and raising the issue here.