What laws are private investigators required to follow?  Each of Canada’s provinces and territories regulate private investigators and security guards. While each province sets its own standards, laws are very similar throughout Canada.

Provincial Laws and The Private Sector of Law Enforcement

Provincial legislation set out issues such as licensing guidelines and practice procedures. In Ontario, the governing legislation is the Private Security and Investigative Services Act.  Quebec’s legislation is the Private Security Act. For BC it’s the Private Investigators and Security Agencies Act. In Alberta, the legislation is the Security Services and Investigators Act. One can locate the relevant Act in each province with relative ease.

Provincial Laws and The Private Sector of Law Enforcement

In Canada, different levels of government have authority to regulate differing matters. Under Canada’s constitution, the federal government has the authority to pass national laws. These laws apply to all Canadians in the same way from coast to coast. An example of a federal statute is the Canadian Criminal Code, or criminal law. No matter where in the country an offence occurs, one should expect the same outcome. That is, a perpetrator should expect to be charged and tried. If convicted, sentencing will be consistent. Punishment can include jail time, a financial penalty or some alternative measure. Yet the punishment is not based on location.

Other Examples of Federal Law

Just as criminal laws are the same throughout the nation, so too are federal tax laws. Also consistent are banking regulations and issues having to do with national defence. This is true because these areas fall under federal jurisdiction in our  constitution.

Unlike federal laws, each province has authority to pass its own provincial laws. These provincial laws include education, healthcare, labour laws and social services. Many aspects of public protection also fall under provincial legislation. These include private investigators and security personnel.

Provincial Private Sector Law Enforcement Legislation is Quite Similar

Although it’s a provincial matter, legislation surrounding the private sector of law enforcement is quite similar in every region. These laws establish definitions for what types of activities require a license. As well, they define activities which might be exempt from licensing. Provincial Acts define private investigators and security guards. For example, a private investigator is a person who searches for and furnishes information for hire or reward. A security guard is someone who watches over and protects persons or property.

Provincial legislation also establishes requirements for private investigation and security guard agencies. These are businesses employing investigators and security practitioners. Agency requirements include maintaining mandatory insurance coverage. Agencies must follow proper record-keeping guidelines. They must comply with expected professional standards.

What Do Private Investigators Do?

Private investigators are individuals who search for and report information to their clients. This information often surrounds individuals and their actions or activities, including business-related matters. Investigations often involve both criminal and civil (or private) issues.

Private investigators can conduct discreet surveillance. They collect evidence of a subject’s actions or activities. Duties include recording video footage and taking photographs for identification or evidence purposes. They interview witnesses and speak with sources of information. Private investigators might approach a subject’s neighbours, colleagues or associates. Conducting background research and collecting data through different sorts of records is part of the job. Private investigators locate missing persons. They might analyze details and information gleaned from different places.

Key Areas of Legislation



Every province requires private investigators to undergo at least a minimum level of specific training. Training includes understanding relevant areas of Canadian Law and procedures. Important is reviewing privacy legislation and Learning laws surrounding surveillance. Knowing when and how to capture Video recordings is essential. Learning how to compile notes and write reports. Understanding basic evidence procedures and guidelines.


Agency Standards

A private investigation agency is in a position of trust. An agency accepts payments from consumers in order to conduct investigations. This requires oversight of the agency's operations. Senior personnel must usually be approved to operate the business. They must be free of serious criminal convictions. They must be financially responsible. An agency must maintain general liability insurance, with the amount per occurrence specified.


For Security Guard Companies

If the agency provides security services, standard uniform regulations must be maintained. Vehicles must meet certain standards as well. For example, colours and wording must avoid confusion with public law enforcement vehicles. There are conditions detailing types of equipment used and under what conditions. Some regulations establish rules surrounding use of dogs in the provision of security services.


Responding to Complaints or Investigations

A complaint can be made against an agency or an individual private investigator. If it is, the agency or individual must co-operate with a Ministry investigation or inspection. They must answer questions and provide access to information. For example, allowing officials of the Ministry to review records or details.


Record Keeping

Agencies must maintain records of important details. These include field notes, reports, videos and other such things. These records must remain accessible for specified periods of time.

How Private Investigators Differ From Police

Police are public officers. They work for a level of government, either Municipal, Provincial or Federal. Police personnel investigate criminal occurrences as reported by a member of the public. Their task is to investigate matters with a view towards identifying perpetrators. If there is evidence of a crime and an officer can point out a perpetrator, charges are laid. Once charged, a suspect is brought to trial, a process  where guilt or innocence is judged.

Although they don’t work for the public, private investigators are often retained to conduct investigations long before police become involved. For example, a business might suspect an employee of theft though they have no direct proof of a crime. Private investigators are often instrumental in collecting evidence of wrongdoing. In loss prevention matters, private investigators can identify a thief before police arrive. In cases of suspected fraud, investigations will be conducted before police are called.

Non-Criminal Investigations

The primary focus of police is to investigate crime. Yet private investigators are often asked to investigate non-criminal matters called ‘civil’ cases. These civil, or private, matters can be diverse and are often very complex. They include investigating accident cases or gathering evidence about levels of disability. Finding people who are missing. They may have disappeared to avoid financial debts. They may suffer from mental health issues. They might have family or relationship problems. Domestic investigations can include finding evidence of infidelity. Investigations might include finding evidence of child abuse or neglect. Corporate investigations can include delving into financial irregularities or conducting due diligence investigations. All these are examples of civil law investigations.

Private Investigators and Police

While not police, private investigators often work within similar areas of law. Like any other citizen, private investigators follow the Canadian Criminal Code. For example, a private investigator must know  the laws surrounding surreptitious interception of private communication. Investigators must never commit Criminal Harassment or Mischief.

Private investigators must be aware of privacy laws such as those contained in PIPEDA. They must know the types of information they can legally access and what they should not. Private investigators must be aware of certain details of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They must understand how certain rights must be protected during an investigation.

Private investigators also follow provincial laws. They must know Trespass to Property legislation and when not to enter a premises.

An investigator working on personal injury files should understand occupier liability law. In a corporate environment, an investigator should know occupational health and safety legislation. Investigators should know provincial evidence rules and the Canada Evidence Act.

In short, private investigators must know key pieces of legislation. By doing so, they can perform their duties lawfully while remaining effective.

Private Investigators Must Possess People Skills

Professional private investigators must also possess excellent practical skills allowing them to work well with people. For example, an ability to be discreet while conducting surveillance. Never raising suspicion about their presence while watching very carefully. Investigators must have good photographic skills. They need an ability to capture subtle details in an image in spite of frenetic activity. Private investigators speak with all sorts of people from varied backgrounds. They must be quick-witted to avoid negative attention.

Are you interested in learning more?  If so, you can email us your questions at Or you can visit our training partners at  Canadian School of Private Investigation and Security Ltd. ( to learn more about private investigator or security training.

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