Fingerprint vs. Name-Based Background Checks

When it comes to background checks in Canada, several different varieties are available.

There are background checks for employment or immigration; Canadian background checks for vulnerable sector (teachers, coaches, et al) … even background checks that look into education records, medical records, driving records, social media presence and much more.

At Reliability Screening, we are experts in two specific types of background check, both pertaining to a criminal records check. These checks are commonly performed for employment screening, making sure that the candidate does not have a criminal record. They can also be used for immigration or visa purposes; either people immigrating to Canada or looking to work here, or for Canadians applying to work, study or live abroad.

Criminal records checks, however, are not one-size-fits-all.

Let’s explore these two types of Canadian background checks, and begin to determine which would be the right one for you.

A Background on Background Checks in Canada

meeting with client who needs background check

You may be wondering about the differences between Canada’s name and fingerprint-based checks. It is important to understand what each provides to choose the check you need for your circumstances.

There are two distinct types of Canadian criminal records checks available. Both screen for the presence of a criminal record in someone’s history, or (hopefully) a lack thereof.

The two checks are:

    • RCMP Certified Criminal Background Check
    • Canadian Police Information Centre Check

As you can imagine, both of these checks are Canada-wide and stem from the highest levels of law enforcement and governing authority in Canada.

Both are background checks that screen against a national Canadian database of criminal records: the Canadian Repository of Criminal Records (a federal database maintained by the RCMP).

Over the years, both the Criminal Record Check check and the RCMP certified check have become the standard for employment screening in Canada, as well as for a variety of other purposes that necessitate ensuring someone has a clean record.

Vulnerable Sector Check

prison cell block

There is another criminal background check becoming increasingly common in Canada: the Vulnerable Sector Check.

You may have head of this check or even been asked to submit one. These are common in the background screening of teachers, coaches, mentors, instructors, social workers, daycare workers and others who are working with children, the mentally ill, those with disabilities or other circumstances that leave them vulnerable to anyone in a position of authority.

The vulnerable sector check is performed exclusively by local police departments. We cannot offer this service at Reliability Screening. If you are in Ottawa or Gatineau and need a vulnerable sector check, we would refer you to the Ottawa Police Service or the Gatineau Police for fingerprinting and processing.

Having said that, we’ll now take a look at the two most common and official means of Canadian criminal records checks that Reliability Screening deals with.

What’s in a Name Check?

Name based checks are often referred to as Criminal Record Check (Canadian Police Information Centre) checks. Criminal Record Check provides police agencies across Canada access to RCMP maintained criminal databases.

The Criminal Record Check has been in existence since 1972. serving as the central database where Canada’s law enforcement agencies have the ability to gain insights and information on a variety of issues. Criminal Record Check is the federal enforcement computer system, and thanks to it, law enforcement officers across Canada have access to the same records.

As such, Criminal Record Check has become a nationwide standard when it comes to Canadian background checks.


Vital Info for Searching Criminal Record Databases

The Criminal Record Check check uses your name and date of birth to check the criminal records database.

Name based searches are conducted by a local police agency, whereas fingerprint based searches are conducted by the RCMP. Reliability Screening handles both of these checks, but the processes involved are quite different.

But wait, you say, Reliability Screening is not a police agency. So how is it that we offer the Criminal Record Check check as one of our services?

At Reliability Screening Solutions, Inc., we have partnered in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Cobourg, Ontario Police Service. This gives us access to the database to provide Criminal Record Check criminal background checks. We can run a Criminal Record Check check in your name from within or outside of Canada.

A name based check can either come back as Negative or Incomplete. As an applicant’s name and date of birth are not necessarily unique, no conviction information can be disclosed. If a record is found, a name based search will come back as Incomplete. This means that the search was unable to conclude that the individual does not have a criminal record, but does not necessarily mean that there is a criminal record. In this case, a fingerprint submission must be made.

As an applicant’s fingerprints are unique, if a match is found to the applicants fingerprints, conviction records will be disclosed with the results. When a fingerprint match is found, the application is sent for manual review to ensure that the information being disclosed is accurate.

UP SIDE: Criminal Record Check check is faster.

DOWN SIDE: Does not use fingerprints; could cause delays if returned ‘Incomplete’ (especially in case where someone has a common name); not acceptable for all types of screening.

In contrast to the Criminal Record Check check, there is another criminal record check in Canada that is more thorough and accurate.

The RCMP Certified Criminal Background Check

fingerprint digital scan

A fingerprint submission to the RCMP is the only way to receive a certified criminal record certificate in Canada.

That’s why most immigration and travel visa authorities insist that you submit the RCMP Certified Criminal Background Check as part of your application to live, work or study in their country.

Many employment screening procedures also involve the RCMP check as it provides a more thorough matching process with fingerprints.

Canada’s federal law enforcement agency, the RCMP takes an applicant’s fingerprints submission (usually performed by LiveScan digital fingerprinting process) to assess whether the individual has a criminal record. The RCMP background check is more through than the Criminal Record Check check.

This check is the only one that is certified, making it valid in almost every situation.

DOWN SIDE: Takes a bit longer; costs a bit more.

UP SIDE: More thorough and accurate; meets requirements of governments (often the only one accepted for immigration etc.) and for more employment screening requirements.

Which Criminal Background Check Is Right for You?

drawing animation of background check

As you can see by now, choosing the right criminal background check is very important. Selecting the wrong one can cause delays and/or unnecessary costs.

If you’ve been asked to submit a Criminal Record Check check, then that’s the one we’ll submit for you.

If the requirements you’ve received state an RCMP check, or RCMP Certified Criminal Background Check, then it’s important that we do this one and not the Criminal Record Check.


In the event you were told to get a criminal background check but did not receive specific instructions, you can always can discover the average cost on our website, we would recommend checking back with the person or organization who asked you for the background check.

    • Teachers, coaches, social workers et all require a Vulnerable Sector Check (which we do not offer, please see your local police service)
    • Immigration & visas typically require the RCMP Certified Criminal Background Check
    • If you were advised to get “fingerprints,” this would be the RCMP Certified Criminal Background Check

Contact us today to find out more or to make an appointment at one of our convenient Ottawa locations.

Or start the background check process now by selecting one of our online options.