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Flaws in PI test force changes

|Written By Judy Van Rhijn

Since April 15, all private investigators have been subject to a new basic training and testing requirement.

‘Much of the exam is based on policy and procedure questions, which vary from one

But a July 16 deadline for all new and renewing investigators to pass the test has put the new regime under pressure to deliver a fast and effective service, which the government hasn’t been able to meet.

With a high failure rate and lack of facilities for retesting before the deadline, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services has been forced to grant an extension while it grapples with the system’s shortcomings.

The new director and registrar of the private security and investigative services branch of the ministry, Lisa Kool, is the unlucky official who has inherited a training regime and test that’s being loudly denounced as deficient.

Lawyer Norm Groot of Investigation Counsel Professional Corp., which focuses on defending private investigators, is quick to stress that the problems don’t reflect on Kool. “All the building up of a training program and test were done by the prior regime,” he says.

“They retained an international-based consulting company [CASTLE Worldwide Inc.] to conduct a study on what the curriculum should be. There was some industry consultation, but it has clearly proved to be insufficient.”

The consultants prepared a draft test of 150 multiple-choice questions that they tried out on a trial group. Only 64 per cent of them passed. With the feedback from that experiment, they whittled the test down to 80 questions, which critics still describe as too broad and policy-based.

There are many educational providers doing their best to provide training to the industry, including community colleges, private vocational institutions, universities, and agencies and businesses that are allowed to train their own people. Unfortunately, they don’t know what to teach.

Debbra MacDonald, president of the Council of Private Investigators, says her No. 1 concern is the schooling part of the process.

“There is no approved schooling or criteria for the course,” she says. “There is a ‘crosswalk’ on the registrar’s site giving some ideas of what the training’s supposed to be, but there is not enough information.”

At the same time, those who design the curriculum don’t get to see the exam before they develop it. “That’s another problem,” says Groot. “So people get hit with this exam, and it’s shocking.”

MacDonald’s second concern is the breadth of the testing. “A lot of private investigators are specialized in different areas of work,” she says. “They may be high-calibre surveillance experts or background checkers or process servers. They will not learn all facets of the industry.”

Groot also reports hearing complaints that the issues

subject to the test aren’t relevant or are too vague. “For example, it says, ‘Know the Criminal Code.’ Well, the Criminal Code is a big book.

It doesn’t say, ‘Know the section relevant to private investigators.’ Much of the exam is based on policy and procedure questions, which vary from one company to another. So there is no right answer.”

In addition, the regime doesn’t allow grandfathering, and a significant percentage of the industry is finding the test difficult to pass.

At a recent conference, some agencies reported that 50 per cent of their people were failing. Those who take the exam don’t get to see their papers afterwards. “They have no idea where their strengths or weaknesses lie,” says MacDonald.

The ministry has had to make amendments to the

regulations to grant certain extensions, although its official line is that the changes are due to an increased volume of licence applications in advance of the G8 and G20 summits last month.

As of July 14, the newly amended regulations state that if a licence expired before July 16, it can be renewed once without having to pass the test.

If it expires between July 14 and July 29, the investigator won’t have to pass it for another year. As well, if the branch has been unable to process the application before its expiry date, there will be a 30-day extension.

Meanwhile, Kool will continue to gather feedback from stakeholders. She’s not surprised that not all comments have been constructive. “When you roll out a change, one would expect positive and negative feedback, but it’s all good,” she says.

“Feedback from the industry is part of the process. We have to make sure that we’re engaged with the stakeholders and that there is a forum for feedback. What we act on and when we act on it is yet to be determined. The first step starts with consultation and engagement.”

Groot’s suggestion for the curriculum, when he met privately with Kool, was that it cover the areas in which the courts have dealt with private investigators, such as the relevant legislation, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, criminal liability, tort law, pretexts and medical information, the laws of evidence, and other litigation issues.

He has also requested that the ministry put out a handbook similar to the one issued for driver’s licence tests, a suggestion MacDonald agrees with. “If you go for a hunting licence, a gun licence, a boating licence, a fishing licence or a driver’s licence, they all come with a book.”

Her organization is starting a subcommittee to liaise with the registrar’s office and implement its own training program. “We can’t afford not to have licensed investigators out there,” says MacDonald. “It’s a loss of income for the investigator and a dilemma for clients who can’t find out the truth.”

Despite her concerns, then, she supports the idea behind the scheme. “The quality of the industry will definitely get higher as we continue along as long as there is proper training,” she says.

  • Scott Milton
    I have completed the on line course with Sir Sanford for the P.I. course. I have completed the study guide and maintained a 92% average. I took the course as a possible career change and or extra work. The ministry exam is the next step. Some of my fellow course mates have the same high marks as me and have done very poorly on the ministry exam. I have had a class AZ drivers license for 25 years and have written the tests every few years to maintain the license. One time I had a test and couldn`t beleive I failed terribly. Normally I get a perfect score. The lady told me to study, I voiced my opinion that many of the questions did not have the "correct" answer and that trying to pick the most correct, incorrect answer was wrong. I then paid my fee and imediately wrote a different test. I scored100%. I also then paid another fee to see and write a third test, again 100%. The lady informed me that there are tests designed to create a failing rate. Sounds the same for the P.I. exam...
  • Amir M
    I fail 26 times and today on my 27 time I pass with 77% Wow!
  • Kodie
    ....are you kidding. Sad day for the P.I world. I agree completely with the above statements. If you fail 2-3 times, probably in your (and your wallets) best interest to get into a new line of work. You are obviously not on par with the governments standards for privates investigators, and if you do succeed (like buddy that took it 30 times) your more then likely a liability to yourself and your employers. I passed the test first time with a 89%. This isn't a joke people, just cause you can take the test as many times as you want.. Common sense should play a role, and if your failing continuously..hopefully you at least have enough sense to maybe start looking in other places for a new line of work.
  • DG
    I am not a P.I. I merely took the course, completed it with a high first attempt grade then did a review with the vendor of the course, followed up on some research he gave me. studied it over again myself.

    Went in test day.... I scored 75%

    So many weird or specific questions that had elements NOT covered in the course administered!

    How the hell should a guy like me with no industry experience know some of this shit we never covered in the curriculum?

    There needs to be a proper prep system for this P.I. test! Give people a bit of insight! Don't just let them walk into a money grabbing BUZZ SAW!!!!!
  • Hunter
    . Never been a PI but passed on the first try. The test may seem a little tricky but to be honest its mostly common sense. So long as you study for it you will pass if not the first then the second for sure. failing that go choose a new career path. The above statements are true, your abilities are being weeded out of the industry.
  • Will C.
    passed my test with 90%. Been a PI for almost 20 years. Found test a mix of relevant and non-relevant material. Ministry released a study guide without any 'fanfare', but they dont hesitate in phoning you at home to tell you its time to pay up (I mean renew licences). I found the guide very helpful. Its frustrating to know that other large PI firms have created study guides for their staff from PI's who took test. Some q's were related to instances I have never some across. As well, my test focused on undercover work. Very little q's on real experiences PI's encounter, tort law, liability,surveillance tactics or 'best practices'. Ministry is struggling to strike a balance b/w public accountability and industry need to adopt basic level of competancy. PI's would do well to understand the Registrar is not there to heed our concers. Their job is to protect public interests, enforce the Act and keep everyone 'honest'. More fines, crackdowns, testing=perception minstry doing its 'job'!
  • venn bragg
    I am a P.I. The test is very easy! I wrote it and did not STUDY very much, one hour before. If you are a P.I. you are suppose to be a professional, already know your stuff and be able to realize your short comings and fix them. The people that are failing are the ones the Government wants out of the business as they are dangerous and a liability. The professional P.I.'s will not have any issue at all. The people here who have failed the test 4,5,6 times, go away, thats what the test is telling you.
  • PI Test

    Mike V
    I also wrote the test and got 74% , I wish i knew were i went wrong, but they won't allow you to reveiw your test.
    77% is a weird percetage,I think 70% would be fair.
    The current standard is to high and is leaving many folks out of a job.
  • Sam pi

    I wrote the pi test there was so much noise of course I failed the second time I paid I failed there just too much things that haven't even been exposed to I have been pi for 7 years I feel it was such a vast variety of questions that it was mindboggling please keep me posted on the lawsuit thank u Sam
  • venn bragg
    [quote name="Sam"]I wrote the pi test there was so much noise of course I failed the second time I paid I failed there just too much things that haven't even been exposed to I have been pi for 7 years I feel it was such a vast variety of questions that it was mindboggling please keep me posted on the lawsuit thank u Sam[/quote]

    Then you are NOT a P.I., you are a videographer at best. You need to seek out ways to become an investigator and show initiative. Just because you hold a license does not mean you are a private investigator, it only means you are a license holder.
  • The Test

    I have written the test and received the 74%. Not sure where I went wrong and no way to find out.
    So: Shouldn't the company responsible for the test be one of Canadian origin and should there not be tests for the type of work involved in?
    These test cover a large spectrum that is not relevant to the basics. The citizens arrest: If I did that while I was doing my job, then my cover would have been blown. Floor walkers need to know; surveillance techs do not make citizens arrests.
    You can write the test as many times as you like, but you will never know wher you missed. Seems like more of a money grab by the Ontario Government and a "hidden company" that seems to be in the business of obtaining and controlling the testing of various personal information banks- PI testing, security guard testing, drivers testing, healthcare information and the list goes on. That is more of a monopoly of information than a standard testing company. Check them out: Serco Des=Serco Group=Serco, a company from the UK with its fingers in everything.
  • PI Testing

    Jake York
    No manual, no set curriculum for these courses. heres an idea, lets test politicians. No set curriculum, no manual, just questions on what we as Ontario citizens would like to see over the next couple of years. No, no, you do not get any advanced notice of what the questions will be...and just for good measure, we will ask you to "pick the answer you THINK is MOST fitting".
    By the way, if you do not get 75%, you are out. Do not pass go, do not collect $200...
    I still have not written the test, am doing so tomorrow, but am already frustrated at the lack of information available, lack of cohesian between the company writing the test and the companies providing the training courses. Nowhere else is this acceptable. Vehicle licence, air brakes licence, boat licence, gun licence...they all have a manual or study guide. Just a cash grab for the ministry! Hey ministry, do yourselves a favour, justify your positions by creating a study guide or manual. How many other tests have a 50% pass/fail ratio?
  • venn bragg
    There is no manual because being a P.I. is objectionable from one P.I. to another. The things you should already know are in the ACTS. There is actually no right answer except what is in the ACTS, the rest is experience and result driven.
  • P.I Test

    Matt J.
    I just wrote my PI exam this week. I failed with a 74% grade. I actually called the Serco tester over at one point to show him that I had more than 1 correct answer to the question being asked. His response was "Use the answer you THINK is more fitting". I didn't realize that we needed to decypher the encrypted coding of this reduculous waste of time and money.

    Once receiving my grade, I immediately called Serco to inquire about my weak areas on the test. I was told that the test is graded and destroyed and that I am unable to review it.

    I am now trying to make contact with the Ministry to inquire about this. I am being told that a review is being conducted and that a handbook may be put into production shortly. I have also been told by the PSISB manager that more information will be added to the website, unknown date, but hopfully soon.

    She couldn't comment on whether or not the PSISB will allow an appeal for people getting a close to pass mark, but said that it would be mentioned in future meetings.
  • P.I Test

    Stevie B
    Been a P.I for the past 12 years, I did fail the 1st time with a 60%...My advise would be to speak to other P.I's who have taken the test and pick their brain on what they know re the test. Surveillance questions we should all know, and are common sence answers, the area I lacked was corporate and undercover questions, and a few penal section questons...Study those area's and u will pass, I did the 2nd test a week later and passed with a 84%. Hope that helps...Goodluck all...
  • PI Test

    Hi Paul:
    I did pass the test on my second try but did I ever second guess myself with some of the questions. Depending on certain situations I believe there were a few questions on the test that had more than one right answer, however we'll never know because they don't show you were you went wrong. All I can say Paul is keep on studying and you'll get it. I still believe it's a money grab and I am still voicing my opinion wherever I go, that's not gonna change because I have passed.
  • private investigator testing

    I to am a private investigator and have now failed the test four times. Got 70 percent 70 percent 70 percent and 72 percent. i have now began to daught myself. Not even knowing where i've gone wrong and changing my answers every time achieving the same score. where did they come up with 77 percent as a cut off and why is the security test 62 percent. why not at least lower the bell curb if 50 percent of people are failing. great cash grab for them but what about us that will soon be out of jobs.
  • venn bragg
    The test is telling you something! You are absolutely un-qualified to be a P.I. and should consider a new path. Sounds like you don't have a choice, and good thing too, as the industry is in dire need to get rid of people like this/you.
  • I agree

    Al Bixby
    I too am a private eye, Lorraine and feel your pain. The test for me is coming up. It is rediculous that the government tests us without they're being a manuel. They can't expect us to know everything about everything. It is totally unfair. I hope there is a class action suit!!!
  • Flaws in PI Test force change

    Lorraine Simpson

    I have been a licenced PI for going on 8 yrs now. My area is very specific. I have written the test once already and have failed. There were questions on it that I will never come across in my area of expertise. I am not able to see my incorrect answers so I am at a loss. I have heard through the grapevine that there is a class action law suit being started for this reason as many people are unable to work because of the way this testing is run. If I don't pass by Oct 21, 2010 I too will be out of a job, is the Canadian Government going to put me on EI and pay out millions to those of us who have failed the test? I know I will be asking for it once I'm forced out of my job.
    The testing is needed however they do need to put out some sort of study material and stick to questions pertaining to that material.
    I am frustrated and going to keep on voicing my opinion until changes are made and I am encouraging every PI I know to do the same thing.
    Lorraine Simpson
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