All companies and organizations perform some sort of background check on employees and independent contractors before hiring them, but the extent of the check will vary. One organization in Canada known for its checks is the Federal Government, which requires nearly everybody who works with its information or assets to go through a degree of security screening. For IT professionals new to the government, this can be a long, intense and confusing process.
Types of Federal Government Security Screenings
As mentioned, nearly every individual who works for the feds will require some sort of security screening. There are a number of types and levels of screens. The one you will require depends on your role, project and information you're accessing, but it will typically be one of the following 3:
Reliability Status (valid for 10 years and required when accessing Protected A, B or C information, assets or work sites)
Secret Clearance (valid for 10 years and required when accessing information classified as Secret)
Top Secret Clearance (valid for 5 years and required when accessing information classified as Top Secret)
The Federal Government Security Clearance Process
A federal government security screening should begin as soon as you become employed with a company or organization that will require access to protected or classified information. In theory, for independent contractors, that would be as soon as you start working for your own independent business, and your business should be the organization initiating the clearance through its own organization security clearance. However, due to various process and efficiency concerns, independent contractors will often obtain their personnel clearance through a Recruitment Agency, who will start the process as soon as they verify that you're a potential fit for government contracts.
The complete screening process and all the requirements are extensive and you can find all of the information here. Before starting your application, you will be required to obtain electronic finger prints for a criminal record check. Once the application has been completed in full, reliability Status can take as little as 2 weeks where a Secret or Top Secret clearance is usually a minimum of 6 months and up to 2 years or longer. The length of time depends on the history of you and your immediate family, including the countries in which you lived and/or worked. More specifically, the applications will require:
Background checks (5-years for Reliability status and 10-years for Secret or Top Secret clearance)
Background checks of your immediate family (Secret and Top Secret clearances)
Law enforcement inquiry through the RCMP (fingerprinting)
Loyalty check conducted by CSIS (Secret and Top Secret)
Passport photos (Top Secret)
Depending on your history, you may also be required to complete out-of-country verifications, interviews, and provide supporting documents.
Federal Government security screenings are owned by the organization who completed the screening. For example, if you received your clearance through your recruitment agency, it's your agency who holds it. This also means that they have the ability to terminate your clearance when you no longer work with them. To be safe, many recruiters will ask you to complete a form to duplicate your clearance, meaning their agency will also hold your clearance. This way, if your first agency terminates your Reliability Status or Security Screening for any reason, it will still be valid and active through the second agency.
As noted, all clearances expire after a period of time and it's crucial that you are aware of your clearance's expiration date and work with your agency to get it renewed. Renewals can be started 6 months before they expired and it's encouraged to start right away. As long as the renewal is in process, PSPC will consider your clearance to remain valid, even after the expiration date; HOWEVER, it is ultimately the decision of the client. If your client chooses not to recognize your expired clearance, you will not be able to continue working.
There's no doubt that Federal Government Security Screenings can often be complex, confusing and frustrating. The best advice for getting through it is to remain as detail-oriented as possible, be prepared, and work with the Company Security Officer who is helping you obtain it. For more information, you can also visit https://www.canada.ca/en/services/defence/nationalsecurity/screening.html.