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Are Private Investigators Legal in Canada?

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Are Private Investigators Legal in Canada?

Private Investigators in Canada are a legitimate occupation and are governed by the laws of each province. While Hollywood depictions of Private Investigators may be exaggerated and romanticized, the reality is that they are highly skilled, certified professionals who are well-versed in the legal system, have a thorough understanding of investigative techniques and must adhere to strict ethical and professional standards. We talk about the reality of hiring a PI in Canada.

Private Investigators in Canada are often working primarily with law firms, insurance companies, corporations, and private individuals to investigate matters such as fraud, missing persons, criminal activity, and corporate espionage. As such, they must be knowledgeable about the laws of the jurisdiction in which they are operating, as well as the regulations and standards of the profession.

Furthermore, they must ensure that they conduct their investigations ethically, with a focus on gathering evidence in a non-intrusive manner. In short, Private Investigators in Canada are highly trained and regulated professionals who are essential to the legal system.

Private Investigators are legal in Canada. This article will help you understand what services private investigators can provide for you and the law-surrounding investigators.

Private Investigators and the Law

To legally work in Canada, a private investigator must follow both industry regulations as well as municipal, provincial and federal laws. Private Investigators work within the Private Security and Investigative Services Act (PSISA), which outlines the rules and guidelines of the industry. The Act requires that PIs must obtain proper training and pass an examination to be licensed in their province. Investigators must carry their licenses with them and identify themselves by showing their licenses when asked.

They are also subject to municipal, provincial and federal privacy laws that govern the collection and disclosure of personal information. Including:

  • Federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA)
  • Provincial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA)
  • Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA)

What’s the difference between private investigators and detectives?

Under the Private Security and Investigative Services Act, private investigators are not legally permitted to refer to themselves with any title that implies they are a law enforcement officer, such as an officer, detective, or private detective. Furthermore, they are prohibited from using any words like “police” or “law enforcement” to describe their work. Doing so would be an infringement of the Act.

Private investigators are not allowed to pose as officers or carry any badge or symbol that might be mistaken as an indicator of their authority. Instead, they must carry a valid PI license that they can show to anyone who requests to see it.

This license is issued by the state and must be renewed regularly. Additionally, private investigators must abide by all state laws and regulations regarding their profession, as failure to do so can result in serious legal repercussions. Section 494 of the Criminal Code of Canada does allow an individual to make an arrest of another individual. However, this is highly unlikely due to the risk of being mistaken for a law enforcement officer. A private investigator would need to be very careful to ensure that they were making the arrest in a legal manner and not posing as law enforcement in any way. Furthermore, any arrest made by a private investigator must follow all the necessary legal procedures and protocols to make it a valid arrest.

What services are legal in Canada?

Background Checks

Private investigators are often asked to conduct background checks for a variety of reasons, including for legal matters, such as child custody cases or for businesses looking to hire a new employee. They are also often asked to do background checks in dating relationships, where an individual may desire more information on their partner. In addition, landlords may ask a private investigator to do a background check on potential tenants. Background checks can also be used in other situations where more information is needed.

Background checks typically can include a thorough search through an individual’s possible criminal records, such as misdemeanours, felonies, and any violations of provincial or federal laws. The search could also include an individual’s arrest records to determine if they have been taken into police custody in relation to any alleged criminal activity.

In addition, the search could include open and closed litigation matters to determine if an individual has any ongoing or past legal issues. It could also search through superior and provincial court matters to check for any outstanding judgments or legal actions that may have been taken against an individual.


Private investigators are often asked to conduct surveillance for workman’s compensation cases, looking into claims of slips and falls, trips and falls, or other workplace injuries to determine if the injury is legitimate and if the person is entitled to receive benefits. Insurance companies may hire PIs to conduct surveillance in order to verify the extent of injuries sustained in motor vehicle accidents and to determine if the claimant is exaggerating or providing false information.

Additionally, individuals often seek out surveillance services for infidelity cases, child custody cases, or wellness checks where a person may be concerned for someone’s well-being.

Businesses may hire a Private Investigator (PI) for surveillance services if it appears that an individual is not complying with a non-compete or non-solicit agreement that has been set in place. PIs can use different methods to gather evidence that can be used to prove an individual is not following the agreement, including video and audio surveillance.

This type of surveillance can be conducted without the consent of the individual in any public setting, such as restaurants, stores, and neighbourhoods. PIs can also monitor the individual’s actions in order to determine if they are in violation of the agreement and can provide any evidence they collect to the business.

GPS Realtime Tracking

Investigators may be asked to track a person’s vehicle, but this is only legal when the individual requesting the services is the rightful owner of the vehicle. This includes when a company is tracking a company-owned vehicle or when a spouse or parent is tracking someone in their vehicle. The legality of the situation depends on whether the individual requesting the tracking services has the legal right or authority to do so. It is important to note that it is not legal to track someone else’s vehicle without their permission.

A GPS tracking device is a device that can be attached to a legally-owned vehicle, such as a car or truck, and is used to monitor the movements of that vehicle. The device utilizes global positioning technology to keep track of the vehicle’s location, allowing the user to see exactly where the vehicle has been and is currently located. However, this information does not provide any insight into the activities of the person driving the vehicle, so if more detailed surveillance is desired, additional evidence must be gathered. Such evidence could include video footage, witness testimony, or other forms of physical evidence.

Finding a Missing Person:

Private investigators are often asked to help locate a long-lost family member or friend. A common misconception is that PIs are involved in active missing person cases, whereas these cases are actually handled by law enforcement. However, PIs can conduct skip-tracing (locate someone) services to help locate individuals. As the largest agency in Canada, The Smith Investigation Agency has access to databases and skilled investigators across Canada, drastically increasing our chances of finding someone who may not want to be found.

What is Illegal in Canada?

Private investigators will not hack into personal online accounts, including Instagram, WhatsApp, email or other social media. PIs also cannot hack into a person’s online banking account. We also cannot access personal text messages or monitor personal phone calls or phone lines.

In adherence to Canada’s privacy laws, private investigators cannot gather information that is not publicly accessible or within their licensed rights to obtain. Collecting evidence legally ensures the ethics, professionalism, and integrity of the industry and also ensures that the evidence you obtain is legally admissible in court.

Who are we?

The Smith Investigation Agency Inc. is a highly acclaimed and nationally renowned private investigative agency that is dedicated to providing clients with the results they deserve. The quality of our services is trusted and confidential, and we strive to ensure that the evidence we provide is of the highest calibre in the industry.

Our licensed private investigators are available to provide assistance and support to our clients. We have been recognized for our excellence in the field, earning numerous awards in the process. We believe in the importance of providing excellent service to our customers and are committed to helping you achieve the desired outcome.

If you are not a licensed private investigator yet and want to take our online private investigator training, you can do so here. 

About the Author

Whitney Joy Smith

Whitney Joy Smith is a prominent figure in the field of private investigation and security, serving as the founder and CEO of The Smith Investigation Agency Inc., Smith Security Inc., and Training Centre Canada, as well as a sitting politician.

With a remarkable journey that began in the early 2000s, Whitney's professional background as a private investigator is underscored by her unwavering dedication to the role. Born in Canada and having spent her early years between Canada and the United States, Whitney possesses a unique perspective shaped by her experiences in both countries. This background equips her with an in-depth understanding of the intricacies of private investigative laws, regulations, and operational standards in North America.

Throughout her career, Whitney has garnered numerous industry awards and accolades. She takes great pride in working closely with her continually expanding agency, striving to elevate industry standards, maintain compliance, and effectively meet the diverse investigative needs of clients.

Whitney actively engages in various membership, committee, board and support roles, demonstrating her commitment to the industry and professional community. She is affiliated with all local chambers, associations and more.

Whitney's wealth of experience is not limited to her professional achievements; her thought-provoking articles have been featured in publications ranging from Readers Digest, Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post, and Mens Health to Business News Daily. She constantly seeks to redefine standards and push the boundaries of excellence within the private investigative and security fields.

To discover more about Whitney Joy Smith and the dedicated team at The Smith Investigation Agency Inc., visit our website to learn more.

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