Bungled Canadian Criminal Background Check
The Courthouse News Service reports on a bungled background investigation:
CHICAGO (CN) – An investigation agency claims it was ruined by a firm that did a slipshod background check on “reality” TV star Ryan Jenkins, who allegedly murdered his wife, dismembered her body and then killed himself. Collective Intelligence says it was hired to screen contestants for the VH1 show “Megan Wants a Millionaire,” but could not check Jenkins’ background in Canada, so it hired defendant Straightline International to do it.
Collective says Straightline told it Jenkins had no criminal record, though in fact he had a conviction for domestic assault on a girlfriend, according to the complaint in Cook County Court.
In August, Jenkins killed his wife, model Jasmine Fiore, dismembered her body, then fled to Canada and killed himself in a hotel, according to the complaint.
VH1 canceled the show, as well as “I Love Money 3,” on which Jenkins also appeared, to distance itself from media scrutiny, the complaint states.
Collective claims that Viacom, which owns VH1, CBS and MTV, ended its relationship with Collective over the mistake.
Collective says Straightline did not request a background check on Jenkins from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, as expected, but instead got its erroneous information from a court clerk in Alberta.
Collective claims Straightline will not answer or return phone calls and will not provide it with more information about the background check it did on Jenkins.
Collective claims it has more than 90 clients in the entertainment industry and now its reputation is tarnished. It says that Viacom, ABC and NBC have since rejected it as a screener for their shows.
Collective seeks damages for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, negligence, fraud, and tortious interference.
It is represented by Louis Chronowski with Seyfarth Shaw.
In the full copy of the Complaint you will notice a document (Exhibit E starting on page 22) from the John Howard Society dated 2000 titled Understanding Criminal Records. A link to this document appears on the web site of Straightline International to this day.
Canadian Criminal Background Checks
Background checks for criminal activity are often done for several reasons:
- Job Applications
- Security Clearance
For example, many truck companies complete checks to ensure their trucks will not be seized at the border because the driver has a criminal record. The Access to Information Act permits an individual to apply for a copy of his or her criminal record. This may be done in one of two ways.
The first is done by providing a certified copy of the person’s fingerprints. The report will show all the particulars, including the disposition and whether or not there was an acquittal or dismissal. If the offence was committed abroad, there will be no record. Also, if prints were taken at the time of the offence and not sent to Ottawa, there will be no record.
Conditional and Absolute Discharges
The CPIC system includes Conditional and Absolute Discharges prior to July 1992. However, after July 1992 time limits were placed on Conditional Discharges of 3 years and Absolute Discharges of 1 year. After these periods they are removed from the system.
The second method of acquiring one’s criminal record is not as reliable. The applicant may request a copy of his record based upon a computer inquiry using his name and date of birth. Of course this may not disclose offences where the accused’s name is different from the one provided. The report will only include offences for the exact surname and the first four characters of the given name. This method is called a Police Certificate.
The Applicant must appear in person with two of the following forms of identification: passport, citizenship certificate, birth certificate, or driver’s licence. This is required under either the federal Privacy Act or the Access to Information Act or both.
If no record is found a certificate is issued. If a record is found for the applicant, or a very similar name or date of birth and name, fingerprints will be requested to determine if the applicant is the same person recorded in CPIC.
If you are an employer doing a criminal record check you must consider name of the organisation providing the Police Certificate. Is is just a letter from a screening company or is an official document from a police agency? If the certificate contains errors, then you are in a much better position if it is a police service that made the mistake. If it is a screening company, then you have to question whether they did the search at all or used something other than CPIC.
Court Case-management Systems
While the Criminal Code of Canada is federal legislation, the administration of the courts is a provincial responsibility. Consequently, each province maintains a case-management system. It appears from the complaint that Straightline only checked the Alberta case-management system. Of course this system is useful to the Investigator, but it is for case-management, not a source of criminal record information for the entire country. Also, such systems have schedules for the removal of records no longer deemed necessary for case-management purposes. Furthermore, the court clerk is not liable in any way should he or she fail to be diligent in conducting the search, even if you can identify the clerk when the error is discovered.