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Moving beyond the ‘minimum narrow’ approach to regulation

Over the last five years, the formal regulatory landscape in private security has witnessed a transformation in Canada with several provinces amending legislation, accompanied by new regulations. After a period of significant change, it is useful to analyze Canada’s progress within its borders (i.e. between provinces) but also in comparison to the international community.

In 2006, Mark Button and Bruce George – in a chapter of The Handbook of Security – suggested that Canada represents the “minimum narrow” approach to regulating the private security industry due to its limited regulations for a select few occupations (i.e. guards and investigators). The authors assert that a nation’s regulatory model can be characterized on two continuums: “depth” (from minimum to comprehensive) referring to the minimum statutory requirements to obtain a license; and “width” (from narrow to wide) referring to the extent to which regulations apply to various private security occupations . However, as previously mentioned, several provinces have sharpened their regulatory gaze in recent years, suggesting that Canada, in various ways, may be moving beyond the minimum narrow approach.

Traditionally, private security regulation was narrowly applied, typically restricted to security guards and private investigators. However, the contemporary “width” of regulation is quite vast; British Columbia and Quebec currently regulate around ten different security services, while the majority of provinces regulate five or more occupations under the auspices of private security legislation. Additionally, at least half of the provinces now regulate alarm services, armoured vehicle officers, and in-house guards.

With respect to the “depth” of regulation, each province, in some form, regulates information and identity. Specifically, private security personnel must be differentiated, in appearance and behaviour, from public police officers; and businesses should maintain records of employees and/or contracts. Other provinces have legislated codes of conduct (i.e. British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario) and measures to protect the safety of personnel (i.e. Saskatchewan).  Provincial registrars, through their legislated regulatory monopoly, have become the contemporary version of a regulatory Leviathan by incrementally broadening the range of regulatory tools for government. For example, all provinces (with the exception of Quebec) have accorded registrars the authority to audit individuals/businesses; investigate public complaints; and to pass any “appropriate” regulations.

Canada has complemented its mechanisms of direct regulation with what David Garland would call “governing-at-a-distance,” a process whereby non-political agencies (i.e. institutions, citizens, etc.) are “responsibilized” as self-governing entities. For example, provinces have activated non-state actors to indirectly regulate the industry through mandatory surety bonds and liability insurance. In a unique case, Quebec has established the Bureau de la Sécurité Privée, consisting of a Board with 7 of the 11 members drawn from the private security industry, therefore reducing the likelihood of “regulatory capture” inherent to the traditional stakeholder model (i.e. Registrar and a few friends).

Important questions still remain: How does Canada compare to other nations? And what are the next steps in statutory regulation? With respect to training, due to the 2009 Agreement on Internal Trade, and subsequent regional trade agreements (i.e. NWTPA, PARE) a 40-hour course will become, outside of Quebec, the de facto training standard in Canada (to aid in the transferability of licenses across provincial borders). Comparatively, a 40-hour program situates Canada in what I would call the “Second Tier” of training standards, with counterparts such as Germany, Bulgaria, and Croatia. However, rather than imposing a 288-hour program like Sweden, perhaps Canada would be well served if provinces adapted Belgium’s categorized approach to training: different standards for different occupations. Provinces could create unique training modules since jobs within the industry vary greatly based on contact with the public as well as the potential to use force. Moreover, other countries such as Hungary require psychological examinations – a possible avenue to explore for higher risk services like cash-in-transit.     

Despite Canada’s promising trend towards more comprehensive regulation, entrance requirements for new firms remain essentially limited to license fees and liability insurance. Only British Columbia requires a firm to have a manager with basic security training. Greece, for example, requires employees, managers, and owners to have specific licenses based on various character requirements, while Austria mandates that, to establish a firm, owners need to pass an exam or demonstrate prior security experience.

In summary, Canada’s approach to private security regulation appears to be something more than what Dan O’Connor and colleagues would call “a monocular liberal gaze or a singular way in which the State sees private security”; rather it could be characterized as a provincial collective of regulatory packages working towards wider, deeper, and more harmonized standards.


February 7, 2011
By Fraser McGuire

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