Ministry of the
Solicitor General

Criminal & Civil Law

Private Security & Investigative Services

Training & Testing

Private Investigator Test Preparation Guide

Section 4 - Criminal & Civil Law

Private investigators are expected to work in accordance with a wide range of criminal and civil legislative and procedural requirements while balancing their own organizational requirements. They should be familiar with the key legal and procedural principles of criminal and civil law as it applies to private investigation.

Criminal Code (Powers of Arrest and Criminal Offences)

Private investigators have neither police nor peace officer powers. They have the same powers as any member of the public under the Criminal Code. Specifically, section 494 of the Criminal Code describes when it is appropriate for a member of the public to make an arrest.

Any person can make a citizen’s arrest without warrant if they witness an indictable offence being committed. As such, private investigators should have an understanding of the distinction between an indictable offence and a summary offence. Typically, indictable offences are more serious; a lot of the offences that private investigators normally encounter are indictable.

Once an arrest has been performed, the private investigator must deliver the individual to a peace officer as soon as possible.

Where a private investigator is required or authorized by law to do anything in the administration or enforcement of the law, section 25 of the Criminal Code is applicable. In these circumstances, section 25 allows a private investigator (like all members of the public) to use as much force as is necessary as long as they act on reasonable grounds. However, section 26 states that individuals who use force are also criminally responsible for any excess of force in these circumstances.

Similarly, section 27 of the Criminal Code authorizes individuals to use as much force as necessary to prevent the commission of an offence for which the perpetrator could be arrested without a warrant, and which could cause serious injury to a person or damage to property.

Canadian Criminal Court System

Private investigators should have the skills and knowledge required to present evidence in a judicial environment. Private investigators may be required to prepare for legal proceedings, present evidence and follow up on the outcomes. Every investigation should be conducted as if the case could potentially go to trial and procedural and administrative requirements should be completed with the utmost care.

tline of Canada’s Court SystemThere are four levels of court in Canada. First there are provincial/territorial courts, which handle the great majority of cases that come into the system. Second are the provincial/territorial superior courts. These courts deal with more serious crimes and also take appeals from provincial/territorial court judgments. On the same level, but responsible for different issues, is the Federal Court. At the next level are the provincial/territorial courts of appeal and the Federal Court of Appeal, while the highest level is occupied by the Supreme Court of Canada.

During a criminal trial, the Crown Attorney would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused has committed the offence.

On the other hand, the burden of proof in a civil matter is less than in a criminal matter. In such situations, the obligation is for the plaintiff to prove the accused is guilty on the balance of probabilities.


Private investigators may be put in situations where intimidation, as defined by the Criminal Code, occurs. They must be able to recognize when intimidation is being used against them and how they can become involved in intimidation and/or stalking when conducting surveillance.

The offence of Intimidation is defined in section 423 of the Criminal Code.

Similarly, private investigators should familiarize themselves with sections of the Criminal Code pertaining to commonly encountered offences such as Kidnapping (section 279), Theft (section 322), False Pretence (section 361) or Fraud (section 380).


Criminal Code

Department of Justice Canada