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Understanding the Differences in Canada Criminal Record Searches

You’ve narrowed down your hiring search and found the candidate most qualified for the position. You are aware you now need to verify the ...

You’ve narrowed down your hiring search and found the candidate most qualified for the position. You are aware you now need to verify the candidate’s criminal history in Canada and need to add a new criminal search in this country to your screening program. Alternatively, you are already running searches in Canada but aren’t exactly sure what information your background check is searching. We’ve compiled a “cheat sheet” for understanding the different levels of crimes reported in Canada as well as the types of criminal background checks available within the country.


How crimes in Canada are classified:
  • Indictable Offenses: These are the most serious offenses. The maximum penalty can include life in prison. This offense requires a fingerprint to be taken.
  • Summary Conviction Offenses: These are less serious offenses. The maximum penalty is usually up to six months jail time and/or a $5,000 fine, although other penalties may be assessed. The maximum incarceration is 6 months and may be limited to fines or probation.
  • Hybrid Offenses: Can be prosecuted as either Summary or Indictable level offenses, which is decided by the Crown prosecutor. A majority of crimes are classified as Hybrid Offenses. Hybrid Offenses require a fingerprint to be taken.

Non-reportable convictions:

Record Suspensions were formerly called a “Pardon”. Depending upon the level of conviction and the specific crime, some convictions become eligible for a Record Suspension if the individual has completed their sentence and has demonstrated good conduct. If an individual has received a Record Suspension, they do not need to reveal that criminal record on most employment or tenant screening applications and in most cases these records will not be reported to the background check company.

Criminal searches available in Canada:

In most countries, criminal searches are either offered at the national level, or the local level, but not both. Canada is one of the few countries where the national and local checks are available.

The National criminal record is obtained from the Canadian Police Information Center (CPIC) and covers all provinces and territories within Canada. Background screening providers may not access the CPIC directly and must gather this information from Canadian law enforcement. While the search is national in scope, it does not include all levels of offenses. It only contains records which require a fingerprint, meaning only Indictable and Hybrid offenses are in the database.

This search generally has a fast turnaround time and only requires an identification verification from the candidate to conduct the search (i.e. passport, birth certificate, identification card). However, if there is a potential record found, the candidate must provide fingerprints to establish a positive ID before the details of the record are returned. This fingerprint process incurs additional costs and can frequently take weeks.


A Provincial search is an address-based search covering a province. All three levels of criminal convictions can be reported: Indictable, Hybrid, and Summary offenses.


Unlike the National search, the Provincial search returns full details of found offenses, including summary level convictions. The employer must obtain consent from the subject and must keep it on file according to local jurisdictional requirements. A standard background screening consent, meeting local requirements, is sufficient.

Each search has its own advantages and disadvantages, making it important to understand the differences when deciding on the type of Canada criminal search for your screening program. Generally speaking, a National search provides easy access to broadest coverage and is relatively fast. However, it can pose challenges if the candidate population has a high percentage of potential records such that the fingerprint process is frequently used. Provincial searches allow you to more easily gain access to detailed criminal history, but they take longer and only cover a single province. If multiple provinces need to be searched, it may cost more to cover the candidate’s address history. Ultimately, it is important to discuss your options in-depth with your legal team to determine your risk exposure and check with your background check provider on what options are available to you based on their service offerings.

*The information provided above is strictly for educational purposes. It is not intended to be legal advice, either expressed or implied. Accurate Background recommends that you consult with your legal counsel regarding all employment regulations.

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Marrakech: Understanding the Differences in Canada Criminal Record Searches
Understanding the Differences in Canada Criminal Record Searches
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