How to Obtain Federal Government Personnel Security Screening in Canada

Background checks are often required for employment. They are an important measure that can help create a safe and secure work environment. In Canada, there are several types of security screenings. The type of screening you are required to obtain depends on the nature of work yand employer requirements. For example, some security screenings are conducted as a general safety precaution (e.g., reference checks), whereas others are more rigorous and serve a different purpose (e.g., drug testing). Employers determine the depth of security screening their employees are subject to. This decision is often based on the level of risk and the nature of the job role.

The Federal Government of Canada is one employer that has a rigorous screening process. As a new professional, you may not know what to expect and what is required if you are subject to a security screening in Canada. In this article, we discuss the different types of security screening as well as what’s involved. Additional details on security screenings in Canada are on the official government website.

Types of Federal Security Screenings in Canada

Although all government employees must complete a security check, the type, depth, and process vary based on the specific position and nature of the job. There are three broad types of security checks in Canada:

  • Reliability Status, which is necessary for obtaining access to Protected A, B, or C information, assets, or work sites;
  • Secret Clearance, which is necessary for obtaining access to information categorized as Secret;
  • Top Secret Clearance, which is necessary for obtaining access to information categorized as Top Secret.

Clearance Process for the Federal Government

Companies that access protected information often require contractors to receive the appropriate security clearance. In theory, this process begins immediately after getting hired because they are responsible for initiating their own clearances. For independent contractors, this is usually done through the recruitment agency, which can help expedite the process if you are just starting in government contracting circles.

The application process for a government job can be long and rigorous. But what does it include? Well, it depends. The actual process depends on many factors. However, even before starting your security clearance application, you’ll have to complete an electronic fingerprint check. Don’t worry, this doesn’t take long (about 10 minutes). However, it is the foundation of your criminal record check. Depending on the status you are applying for, the application might require:

  • A personal background check (Overview of the past 5 years for Reliability Status and 10 years for Secret or Top Secret Clearance)
  • Background checks of your closest family members (For Secret and Top Secret clearances)
  • Law enforcement inquiry through the RCMP (i.e., fingerprinting)
  • A credit check
  • Loyalty check conducted by Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) (for Secret and Top Secret)

Depending on your history, you may also be asked to complete out-of-country verifications, interviews, and provide supporting documents.

After the process is complete, you will find out whether you have received the security clearance.

How Long Does It Take?

It can take anywhere from 2 weeks for a Reliability Status check and a minimum of 6 months up to 2 years or longer for Secret or Top-Secret Clearance. The duration essentially depends on your and your family’s history, including (but not limited to) your previous addresses (countries you lived in), as well as employment history (countries you worked in). All the information about the process can be found here.

What is a Clearance Duplication?

When you receive security clearance in Canada, it is issued to and owned by the organization that completed the screening. Thus, if a recruitment agency completes the clearance, they are the owner. This means that if/when the agency stops working with you, the clearance could be terminated and no longer valid. To protect yourself and keep your clearance valid “indefinitely” (in other words, even after starting to work with someone else), it’s beneficial to duplicate your clearance. Although most recruiters will initiate the duplication form for you, you should ask about it in the instance that they don’t. That way, if the first agency terminates your Reliability Status or Security Screening for any reason, you will still be protected.

Renewing Your Clearance

Another important note is that all security clearances in Canada expire after a certain period of time. Thus, you should make note of the expiration date so you can initiate the renewal well in advance. You can initiate the renewal process six months before the clearance actually expires. It is highly recommended to be done as early as possible! In general, as long as the renewal is in process, PCPS will consider the security clearance valid (even though it may have already expired). However, the ultimate decision to accept an expired clearance lies with the client; if they decide not to recognize your expired clearance, then you simply will not be able to continue working.

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Jarvis is a leading technology advisory and talent solutions firm headquartered in Canada with ongoing partnerships across North America’s top financial institutions, cutting-edge startups, and major technology companies.

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