December 14th, 2021 | Chuck Walker, Senior Advisor of Public Safety Information Management

What Is a Vulnerable Sector Check and How to Avoid Imposter Screening Providers

Does your organization have an open role that involves interactions with children, the elderly, the disabled, or another vulnerable group? Whether the role is volunteer, paid, full time, or part-time, it is important to conduct a Vulnerable Sector Check. Finding the right screening provider to perform this check shouldn’t be complicated, here is what to look for.

What Is a Vulnerable Sector Query (VSQ)?

The fact is, only a police service can conduct a Vulnerable Sector Query which is the core feature of the Vulnerable Sector Check that differentiates it.  Here is why:

  • The Vulnerable Sector Query was created by the 2000 amendment to the Criminal Records Act and it is intended that police provide a safeguard to control the use of the query and limit it to the purpose the Act prescribes: screening applicants for positions of trust or authority involving vulnerable persons.
  • In addition, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) –— which administers Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC)[4] through which VSQs are conducted –— is bound by a federal Ministerial Directive requiring that Vulnerable Sector Verifications (which include the VSQ) are to be conducted by the police jurisdiction where the applicant lives.

Issues You Might Encounter with Vulnerable Sector Checks

Sending applicants to police front counters to obtain a Vulnerable Sector Check is problematic for both the organizations and for applicants.  Local processes are inconsistent from one jurisdiction to another.  Turnaround times can be lengthy.  Accessibility can be a challenge depending upon physical locations and hours of service. Applicant abandonment is substantial.  The Pandemic has only amplified most of these challenges.

Those challenges do not exist with respect to criminal record checks or enhanced police information checks because screening providers can facilitate them in partnership with their Police Partner Agencies pursuant to federal policies that define those processes.

Did you know that there are third-party background screening providers offering clients purported equivalent solutions for Vulnerable Sector Checks?

Vulnerable Sector Checks may be referred to similarly as Vulnerable Sector Screening or Vulnerable Sector Verifications. The distinguishing feature of these checks is a special query of Schedule 1 offence convictions[1] for which a pardon or a record suspension has been issued by the Parole Board of Canada. This query –— a Vulnerable Sector Query –— cannot be facilitated by any third-party company.[2]  Any third-party company purporting to offer Vulnerable Sector Checks or reasonable facsimile is making a questionable claim.

Beware of Misleading Sex Offender Checks

Claims are sometimes made that such equivalent services examine available sex offender registries as the means to meet the screening requirements of certain organizations. This is a misrepresentation for two reasons:

  1. There are no public-facing sex offender registries in Canada[3].
  2. There is no substitute for the Vulnerable Sector Query in the context of a Vulnerable Sector Check as it is defined.

The interest in Vulnerable Sector Check solutions is driven by two things:

  • The difficulties associated with obtaining this type of check.
  • The value assigned to the results obtained from this check.

These drivers may cause organizations to search for solutions they believe address the risk as they perceive it; solutions that may be obtained more conveniently than a Vulnerable Sector Check.

Here’s What to Look For in a Screening Provider

Look for a provider that presents clients with reliable information to inform the approach to any regulated or perceived requirement for a Vulnerable Sector Check. For example:

  • Monitor and update any changes to the age of the youngest person in the special holding of Schedule 1 offences where a pardon or record suspension has been issued[5]. This informs approaches regarding the requirement for a Vulnerable Sector Query based on applicant age.
  • Work with clients to develop approaches that involve establishing “no record” VSQ results to baseline a process of periodic Enhanced Police Information Checks. Doing so eliminates the pointless repetition of Vulnerable Sector Checks.
  • Provide fully researched and supported information quantifying VSQ volumes, hit rates, Schedule 1 record suspension issuance rates, and disclosure rates to assist organizations to qualify their risk.

The Sterling Backcheck Difference

Sterling Backcheck supports clients with Vulnerable Sector requirements. Rather than offer products represented as equivalents to a Vulnerable Sector Check, Sterling Backcheck provides real-world experience to assist organizations to find their approach based on facts. To find out more about this service, check out our webpage.

For more information how a potential partnership leveraging Sterling Backcheck’s expertise can help you achieve your strategic goals, contact us


[2] Vendors may provide police services with online solutions to facilitate Vulnerable Sector Checks for applicants living in, and limited to, that police service’s jurisdiction

The National Sex Offender Registry allows police to search its contents using established criteria to identify possible suspects residing in the vicinity of the crime.

[4] The Canadian Police Information Centre is the national police computer system that, among other functions, is used to query the Identification Data Bank (the National repository of Criminal Records)

[5] Such changes are rare.  The youngest person was born August 20th, 1990.  This is confirmed by federal Access To Information Request

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.