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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Debunking the P.I. myth

By David Chilton
Special to The Sun

I stood in the shadows by the lake waiting for him to show. I was packing heat, just in case. You can never trust a guy they call The Razor.

Nor should anyone who wants a career as a private investigator trust the enduring -- largely American -- image of the P.I. as a lone wolf in a trench coat working out of a seedy walkup in a bad part of town.

It's far more likely in Toronto that private investigators would fit handily into a corporate environment, an insurance company, say, and be well acquainted with Canada's laws covering fraud or intellectual property or privacy.

Various backgrounds

Where they have learned these and other career-related matters varies. Many private investigators are former police officers; others have taken training at private career colleges, community colleges or at security firms themselves. As for licensing, change is in the air. Ontario will soon require every private investigator to have a licence and to have completed a certain amount of training.

One company that offers P.I. training is Iron Horse Corp., with offices in Ottawa and Toronto. James Goff, Iron Horse v-p, says his company began offering private investigator training in 2000 after running into a common problem.

"There were lots of agencies that wanted workers with experience and training," Goff says. "But it was increasingly difficult to find staff."

Iron Horse offers an eight-week part-time training course every two months. The course, which costs about $1,500, is taught part time because most of his students are employed, Goff says. Their average age is 25 to 35, he continues, and about two-thirds of them are men. They don't have any experience or training as private investigators, Goff says, but are career changers or people intrigued by a personal situation that required a P.I.

For the record, Goff says the fantasists -- the Sam Spade wannabes -- are shown the door.

Kevin Bosquet, owner of The Corpa Group in Mississauga, says his "minimum, rock bottom" demand when hiring a P.I. is the completion of a two-year law and security program at one of the community colleges. And if a would-be employee has passed exams in insurance or insurance fraud so much the better, he says.
  • Career colleges, community colleges and some security firms offer PI training.
  • New laws will soon require all private detectives to be licensed and to have completed a minimum amount of training.
  • Investigating insurance fraud makes up 50% of the investigator's work.
  • The majority of private investigators are men.

  • James Agro, the Police Foundations program co-ordinator at Seneca College in Toronto, says for the person who wants a career as a P.I., his school's Advanced Investigations and Enforcement graduate certificate is a great place to start. The one-year, full-time program is new this year and begins in September. Agro says the first enrollment will be limited to 30 students, but there are plans to double in size.

    Irrespective of where students train, some subjects are common. There's surveillance, for example, both how to conduct it and the equipment the P.I. uses for that task; Canada's privacy laws; and insurance and insurance fraud.

    That last item makes up about 50% of private investigation work, says Norman Groot, a cop turned lawyer who specializes in investigations and privacy law. About 30% of P.I. work is corporate, says Groot -- intellectual property matters, employee theft and the like -- and 15% or so legal, meaning a lawyer has retained the P.I. Less than 5% of the private investigator's work is domestic.

    Regardless of the work, the P.I.'s pay is only fair. Goff says $15 to $25 an hour is about the range.

    That's not nearly enough to have to face The Razor, but probably OK if the bad guy is actually a padded insurance form.

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