By Canadian Security
With its new Security Services and Investigators Act (SSIA) coming into effect last June, Alberta effectively increased its regulatory capacity over an increasingly complex and evolving private security industry.
By Canadian Security
Currently, there are approximately 6,500 licensed security guards and 1,500 private investigators in the province. However, when the legislation is fully implemented in June 2012, the province expects the number of individual licensees to double as a result of the legislation’s application to a wider selection of the industry.
Under Alberta’s preceding legislation (Private Investigators and Security Guards Act, 2000) only private investigators and security guards (manned guards/watchmen) were regulated. In contrast, the new SSIA regulates any individual, company or in-house department providing the following services: investigation, security services, executive security services, loss prevention services, patrol dog handling, locksmiths, locksmith equipment sales or promotion, automotive lock-bypass or security alarm response. This expansion in the regulatory width of the SSIA has also been complemented by an enhanced depth of regulation as well.
Following the in the footsteps of B.C. and Ontario, business licensees must maintain a prescribed code of conduct to ensure that employees obey the law and work with honesty and integrity. Individual applicants must have a fluency in English — allowing them to converse with the public and emergency services. Additionally, all individual licence applicants (and the directors/officers in the case of a security services business licence) must submit to a criminal record check, police information check as well as a vulnerable sector (VS) search — a tripartite approach to security screening that will inevitably lead to several unintended consequences.
Are there any private security occupations in the position of authority or trust relative to children or other vulnerable persons? Not only is this type of screening inappropriate for the security industry, it is more costly than standard background checks and has resulted in significant delays for applicants. Due to changes made by the RCM.P last summer, VS checks now involve querying a national database of pardoned sex offenders. If the applicant’s date of birth and gender match a file in the database, the applicant must submit fingerprints to continue the process — adding further costs and delays. From start to finish, obtaining an individual security licence could be a four to five month process, only to be repeated every two years when licences are renewed.
In addition, the aforementioned screening process will provide the Registrar with a comprehensive report of an applicant’s history—beyond past convictions and pending charges/investigations—that may include: absolute discharges, withdrawn charges, arrests and contact with police under the Mental Health Act. Police have some discretion over the content provided to the Registrar. However, if the Registrar is mainly concerned with screening individuals with unpardoned convictions for serious crimes (see SSIA FAQs report on government website), then why are applicants being subjected to this costly, lengthy, and invasive security screening process every two years? A standard criminal background check would do.
Despite the questionable decision above, the province, more importantly, is enforcing new mandatory training. Currently, licensees who wish to carry a baton must complete a 40-hour use-of-force course, with re-certification every three years. As of June 1, 2011, the SSIA requires all new security service licensees (excluding automotive by-pass workers) to complete a 40-hour basic security course and achieve at least 80 percent on a written exam. Applicants may bypass the training requirement if they have obtained an applicable post-secondary degree/diploma or have completed basic security training in B.C., Saskatchewan, Ontario, or as a police officer. Regarding a general locksmith licence, applicants must complete an approved Locksmith Apprenticeship Program and obtain a Journeyman Certificate. Mandatory training (around 50 hours) for investigators will be implemented by June 2012.
The curriculum of the basic security training program is similar to B.C. and Ontario. Alberta plans to accredit web-based instructional courses, but students would probably have to write the final exam in person. The final exam is approximately one hour and consists of about 50 multiple choice and true/false questions with a concluding multi-part “scenario” comprised of several short answer questions. Students will have up to two years to pass the exam; there is currently no policy in place that limits the number of rewrites. With a required passing grade of 80 percent (the highest in any province) it will be interesting to see if Alberta can avoid the same pitfalls of Ontario regarding a low “pass rate” for the final exam.
Ultimately, the SSIA has changed the identity of the private security industry in Alberta from a seemingly small, unregulated entity into a smartly regulated industry with comprehensive and professional standards. With few exceptions, when the Act is fully implemented next year, Alberta will sit among Canada’s regulatory elite.
Fraser McGuire is a research associate with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.