System for Conducting Criminal Background Checks Revamped but Employers Still Face Challenge

The RCMP has recently made changes to the national system for accessing information about individuals’ criminal records. This post describes the relevant background and the changes, with a focus on what is relevant to employers .

Background on CPIC and background checks

The Canadian Police Information Centre or “CPIC” is an information system through which Canadian law enforcement agencies obtain information on crimes and criminals from an RCMP administered national database. The national database contains a range of information useful to law enforcement, including records about hybrid and indictable offences. “CPIC agencies” (local police forces) voluntarily report information to the RCMP for inclusion and, in turn, are authorized to use CPIC to access the shared data source.

Though it is used primarily for law enforcement purposes, CPIC is also an important source of information for employers who need to screen new hires because it is the only means of accessing a national database of criminal records.

Employers can obtain information about job applicants through a CPIC agency, either by contacting an agency directly or by using a commercial service provider. The most basic kind of “CPIC check” queries the RCMP database for information about an individual’s criminal record. A “vulnerable sector” check identifies whether an individual has been granted a pardon for certain specified sexual offences, but is only available to organizations hiring individuals to care for children and vulnerable persons based on restrictions in the Criminal Records Act.

The recent developments primarily relate to the rules for gaining access to the RCMP’s information. A “local indicies check” or “police check” is something different, and generally refers to a check of police files and occurrence reports within a locale, and not necessarily an entire province. Though confined, such checks can provide a broader range of information than a CPIC check, including information on provincial offences convictions, charges and miscellaneous “occurrences.”

Late 2009 clampdown

Late last November, the RCMP sent one or more directives to all CPIC agencies. It alleged non-compliance with its policies and demanded change.

In December, the RCMP issued an interim policy entitled “Dissemination of Criminal Record Information” and a new FAQ explaining aspects of the interim policy. Though these communications addressed a number of compliance-related matters, the major impact on employers flowed from the RCMP’s direction that CPIC agencies refrain from confirming that an individual has a record based on a name and date of birth search alone. The RCMP directed CIPC agencies to report all name and date of birth matches as an “incomplete” result, a result which can only be resolved by a process that involves submitting fingerprints and that can take up to 120 days to complete.

Recent developments

On August 4th, the Minister of Public Safety issued a new directive to the RCMP to govern its release of criminal record information. Based on this directive, the RCMP issued a new policy and an FAQ.

Most significantly for employers, the RCMP has brought in a new requirement that applicants declare all convictions for offences under federal law. For basic criminal record checks, if an applicant’s name, date of birth and declared information matches, CPIC agencies may report a “possible match to a registered criminal record.” Applicants who receive such a result may also receive a non-certified report of their criminal record information.

The same declaration and “potential match” system will now apply to vulnerable sector searches, but the RCMP has also brought in a new process to make vulnerable sector searches more rigorous based on concerns about false negative reports. It explains:

A recent analysis of CPIC name-based queries determined that an individual could potentially avoid being linked to their pardoned sex offence(s) if he/she used a different name during the query. This scenario could occur if a legal name change was used for a query, and the name change went unreported to the RCMP for updating criminal record information. In the interest of public safety, the RCMP recently made enhancements to the CPIC system to ensure that an unreported name change would not allow a pardoned sexual offender to avoid being identified through a Vulnerable Sector query.

Based on this concern, to complete a vulnerable sector check the RCMP now requires CPIC agencies to check the name, date of birth and declared information for a match (search criteria 1) and also check a repository of pardoned sex offender records for a gender and date of birth match (search criteria 2).There are three potential reports:

  • Negative. When neither set of criteria produce a match.
  • Possible match to a criminal record. When only the first set of criteria produce a match. The report will also indicate the failure to match with a pardoned sex offender record.
  • Inconclusive. When the second set of criteria produce a match.

“Inconclusive” results can only be resolved by through a process that rests on fingerprint matching. The RCMP has issued recent publications (here and here) that stress the importance of conducting a reliable verification through fingerprint matching and explain why this process may take up to 120 days.


These developments will give employers who conduct basic criminal record checks an ability to confirm the existence of a declared criminal record in a relatively expeditious manner.

However, applicants without a record but who match on a name and date of birth search will sill be subject to an “inconclusive” report that can only be resolved based on fingerprint verification. Also, the new procedure for conducting vulnerable sector checks seems likely to produce a high rate of “inclusive reports,” particularly amongst male job applicants to vulnerable sector positions.

It appears, therefore, that employers still must be prepared to manage potential delays in resolving inconclusive results until the RCMP can offer a more expeditious verification process. The RCMP documents indicate that the federal government is working on a “major Crown project designed to improve the efficiency of Canada’s national fingerprint and criminal record repository” but do not provide an estimated date for launch.


  1. Is it a fair summary of this note to say that just as more and more employers are being driven (possibly by unnecessary security fears, but that’s my editorial addition) to increase the number of occasions on which they want a criminal record check of potential employees, the police have changed the rules to make such checks difficult and slow?

    For example, does not the RCMP’s new (as of last December) requirement that an applicant declare his or her entire criminal record for comparison with CPIC create the risk that an employer who submits a record with one offence missing from that declaration will get back a ‘no match’ result?

    Thus the employer will not know (a) whether the job applicant’s list was right as far as it went, and (b) whether the job applicant had another conviction, possibly relevant to his or her suitability for the job?

  2. Excellent article that clearly outlines the criminal check procedure.
    With regards to the processing time : The digital fingerprint method done by accredited fingerprinting agencies requires a 1-2 week wait time. VS checks might differ because only police departments are authorized for these checks.

    I am however concerned by the information queried for a basic check. Just the name and DOB seems too little.
    If a person who is arrested , does not have ID and provides a fake name and fake DOB what does the police do? Taking fingerprints and a mugshot is a sureshot way to record their details. But is there an effort made to get their actual name and DOB?

    Hopefully other criteria can be added to the check. such as a SIN number;Drivers license number; ethnicity;height.This will decrease the chances of going for a fingerprint check.