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How to Hire a Private Investigator in Canada

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As a respected and well-regarded private investigation agency and dedicated training provider, we deal with thousands of cases – and clients – per year. There’s also a very large variety of cases, as everyone’s individual need for private investigative services is unique. 

When we work with our regular clients in the insurance, corporate, and legal world, for instance, there is a common understanding of the type of services private investigators perform in Toronto, Mississauga, Ottawa, Calgary, or elsewhere. However, when we work with individuals of the public we often find there are many misconceptions on what to expect from recruiting the services of a private investigator, and what you will receive once you hire an agency. 

If you’re wondering how to choose a private investigator, we’re here to help. Let’s ensure you can narrow your search down to an experienced, professional, and real-world licensed professional you can count on.

 

What Should You Look for When Hiring a Private Investigator?

A private investigator in Canada should be fully licensed as this demonstrates that they operate legally. This is a requirement in order to maintain a licensed status. In addition, the PI would have therefore undergone a comprehensive training curriculum, passed an examination, and successfully applied and been approved for the license. 

This is what enables them to operate as a private investigator in the first place, and it means that they are liable for their services from a legal context. Of course, they should also be liable for what they do from a results-driven standpoint; they need to be committed to their work. That’s why it’s best to narrow your search to private investigators with a demonstrated history, positive reviews about their services, and a reputation for top-quality work.

Regarding the services they offer, they should be comprehensive enough to cover all the essentials but not exhausting to read through. A PI who spreads themselves too thin is one who may be overworking themselves or rushing between clients to get as many files going as possible. If you need to track down an employee who ripped off your company, for instance, you’ll want fraud and location tracking investigative services. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions when meeting with one that interests you – in fact, we’ve outlined 10 that are crucial before committing to a particular PI.

 

What Can a Private Investigator Do and Not Do in Canada?

Not What They Do on TV (Unless it’s Accurate, Which is Rare)

There are many shows and films now that are solely about the private investigation industry as well as some that subtly reference it. Strike, Private Eyes, Veronica Mars, The Catch, Cheaters TV, Magnum PI – the list goes on. What we see in these forms of entertainment – an important word to bear in mind – is very different than the reality of what we can do legally. 

In these shows and films, they often call on a private investigator and find all the evidence they need in a moment’s time, who will appear to get information from any sources necessary – and by any means. Even hacking into cellphones isn’t out of legal reach for them, but that’s not how it works. This is just not the reality of the professional private investigative industry.

Anything Permitted in the United States by Law but Not Canada

In addition to there being many things in TV and movies that are not applicable, there are also different laws between the US and Canada that govern and regulate private investigator operations. In Canada, for instance, our privacy laws are much stricter. Our ability to obtain certain pieces of information is more restricted than that of the U.S due to the various acts that we have in place to protect people and information. 

We recently had an American inquire about our services and they were looking to perform a background check. The cost of this in the U.S is only around $50.00 and offers up a fair bit of information. However, in Canada, the cost is considerably higher due to the difficulty in obtaining the information and having to pay for access to multiple databases, among other complications. The privacy laws in this situation make such a service more expensive as a result.

A PI Should be Transparent and Honest About What’s Legally Possible

We have dealt with clients who provide little to no information and still expect optimal results, but it’s never a guarantee. There are times when private investigators can obtain information with limited to no information, but it’s impossible to predict when this can realistically happen. Private investigators always strive to provide the most accurate and thorough results possible, but some cases are incredibly challenging, and clients may still want the results they see on TV. It’s one thing to be honest and transparent about what can and can’t be done – that’s what you want to look for. Avoid those who promise the moon and stars with nothing to go on.

We recently had a case where the client had only a partial name of a person and an approximate area where the subject lived. We discussed the case in detail and made it clear that the results may not be favourable. However, we would exhaust all efforts to perform the search to the best of our abilities. 

We were able to obtain more information than the client had managed to find on their own, but they still required more than what we could find. Some methods suggested by them of obtaining it referred to those illegal, underhanded practices seen – you guessed it – on a TV screen. The best private investigators are those who know when to draw the line and maintain full compliance at all times. There cannot be exceptions.

They Shouldn’t Offer Services They Can’t Really Provide

We recently had a client email us for assistance and wanted to find someone using skip tracing services in Calgary. We discussed how we could assist given the limited information, explaining our process and noting that we don’t offer any guarantees. This was especially the case as very little information was made available. 

Once we started to work on the file, we were not finding any current address information and needed to put the file in a brief hold to wait for new information to surface. When we explained this to the client the client became irritated and invented apparent claims and promises we had made. A private investigator with any real-world experience knows never to make promises.

The issue is that we never discussed the sources used to obtain the information. This client had previously talked to another company – possibly more than one – that promised all sorts of options including going through the Canada Revenue Agency for data. This is illegal and a violation of privacy laws. Therefore, the client had been inappropriately informed by not only pop culture and media but also other, illegally operating companies. Private Investigators do have access to information outside the public eye, but not to sensitive government details or those pertaining to the CRA, disability, welfare, or otherwise. 

 

How Much Does a Private Investigator Cost?

The cost of hiring a private investigator in Canada will vary depending on a variety of factors. First, there are retainer fees, an upfront (if “consumable”) cost that goes towards the hours they work for you. There’s also the “non-consumable” retainer format, in which case would be paid in advance and the hours added on top afterwards. Regardless, as the term implies, this retains you as a client and they will continue to work on your file. 

You may also be responsible, in addition to the hourly rate and retainer costs, for any expenses incurred by your PI while they’re working for you. These can include travel, gas, hotel stays and administrative costs, among others. You should determine how their billing is set up – such as whether they have a cap or can provide you with an estimated range – to make more informed, financially proactive decisions regarding PI services.

 

Can You Actually Hire a Private Investigator?

Yes, of course! All you need to do is ensure you find one that is fully licensed and experienced, preferably with a track record of reviews and feedback online to prove it. If anything, become an “investigator” yourself by doing some digging on the agencies you’re considering. When discussing your needs with them in the strictest confidence, you’ll be able to determine whether they offer the services and pricing that aligns with your needs and budget.

 

What Can a Private Investigator Find Out About a Person?

PIs can carry out several duties including skip tracing, corporate and legal investigations, looking into instances of fraud, infidelity investigations if you suspect a spouse is cheating, scanning online databases and public records, and much more. Again, services and what they entail will vary depending on the agency you opt for. They can even perform stakeouts and track a person’s whereabouts, which has been useful in everything from locating missing seniors to protecting children during custody disputes.

 

Are Private Investigators the Same as the Police?

No. These are two completely different industries, though we share similar investigative tactics.
While yes, private investigators are data and evidence collectors, we do not actively enforce the law. Often, we receive calls where members of the public may believe we can operate in the same manner as police officers, but this is far from the truth. 

A private investigator is not a private detective, either (another common misconception). Unless a crime has been committed, certain information is protected by various Acts. Unfortunately, if you’re concerned with your cheating spouse, sadly, that is not enough grounds for us to invade his or her privacy, and we can only carry out investigative duties within the legal requirements we must obey as professionals holding licenses.

 

Conclusion: Stick to Private Investigators who Follow the Law!

We work to not only provide the best possible results to our clients; we do so while maintaining full compliance to the Privacy Act, Evidence Act, PIPEDA and the Private Investigative and Security Act. After all, if you pay for the services of a private investigator and the information was obtained illegally or not within the law, it will not be admissible in court if your case requires it. You could even find yourself in trouble by obtaining information illegally.

If you have any questions about the services a real private investigator in Canada can offer, we’d love to discuss available options with you. Get in touch with us at The Smith Investigation Agency today to get started, and we’ll help in any way we can.

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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