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Are Private Investigators Legal in Canada?

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Are Private Investigators Legal in Canada?

You’re likely familiar with Hollywood portrayals of Private Investigators that would lead you to wonder if they’re even legal in Canada. It’s a fair question given how unrealistic tv and films make PIs look (think James Bond, Nancy Drew, and just about any tv-star-PI posing as a murder detective). You’re definitely right if you think this is far from the reality of hiring a PI in Canada.

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 as an officer, detective, or private detective. They are not allowed to use the words “police” or “law enforcement” when describing their work. They cannot pose as an officer or carry a badge or symbol of authority. In fact, private investigators are required to carry a PI license and show it to anyone who asks to see it. While section 494 of the Criminal Code in Canada does allow for anyone to make an arrest of an individual. This is highly unlikely–and a PI would have to ensure they were in no way posing as law enforcement in doing so.

What services are legal in Canada?

Background Checks


Private investigators are often asked to conduct background checks in legal matters, child custody cases, in dating relationships where an individual wants more information on their partner, businesses looking to hire a new employee, landlords looking for more information on new tenants, and many other situations. Background checks typically can include a thorough search through an individual’s possible criminal records, arrest records, open and closed litigation matters, superior and provincial court matters, public and private databases, and registration databases. The overall search could also include social media and a thorough sifting through the internet.

Surveillance


Private investigators are often asked to conduct surveillance for workman’s compensation cases, looking into slips and falls or other workplace injuries. Insurance companies may hire PIs to determine the severity of motor vehicle accident injuries. 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 also hire for surveillance services for a breach of contract if an individual is not following a non-compete or non-solicit agreement. PIs can legally gather video and audio surveillance evidence without a person’s consent in any public setting, including restaurants, stores, and neighbourhoods. PIs are also legally allowed to conceal their identity, operating undercover.

GPS Realtime Tracking


Private investigators are sometimes asked to track a person’s vehicle and whereabouts. This is only legal when the individual requesting services owns the vehicle they want to have tracked. This can occur when a company is tracking a company-owned vehicle or when a spouse or parent is tracking someone in their vehicle. A GPS tracking device is typically attached to the legally-owned vehicle, and the movements of that vehicle and person are tracked. However, these devices are limited in the information and evidence that can be gathered. While physical locations can be tracked, it is not possible to know what an individual is doing at these locations, so surveillance evidence is often needed to support these cases in order to provide the outcome you need.

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 the 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.

As Canada’s #1 Private Investigation Agency, our team of experts is dedicated to getting you the results you deserve. As the leading Canadian PI agency, we are a nationally renowned and multi-year-award-winning company. We offer high-quality, trusted and confidential services and are committed to providing you with the best quality of evidence in the industry. Our licensed and legally operating PIs are available to help you. If you are not a licensed private investigator yet and want to take our online private investigator training, you can do so here. 

To learn more about our services, or to speak with a private investigator today, contact us at The Smith Investigation Agency.

About the Author

Whitney Joy Smith

Founder of The Smith Investigation Agency in 2014, Whitney Joy Smith’s extensive background as a private investigator is matched only by her passion for the role. A graduate of several respected institutions, including Northwest Florida State College and George Brown College, her early years in life were spent between Canada and the United States. This education, along with her formative years as a private investigator in various agencies, informed much of her knowledge of private investigative laws, regulations, and operating standards in both countries.


The recipient of numerous industry awards and accolades, including the Consumers Choice Award, Best in Ottawa, and many others, Whitney takes pride in working closely with her ever-growing agency to raise the bar, maintain compliance, and meet the investigative needs of clients. Whitney is active in various membership and supporting roles, including the CPIRC, CBN, CAPI, Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce, and many others. Her experience-driven, thought-provoking articles have been featured in everything from Readers Digest to Business News Daily, and she strives to continually redefine standards for those in the private investigative and security fields. Learn more about Whitney and the team at The Smith Investigation Agency today.

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