Regulatory red tape

Security system providers in British Columbia say legislation is too cumbersome.

In Victoria, British Columbia, Bay Systems’ John Vickers says the alarm installation business is booming, but it would be a whole lot better if the provincial government got out of the way.

“I can appreciate the government trying to stop companies from ripping people off, but this is just over sensitivity; these regulations are too stringent,” he says. “I’ve spent 25 years in the industry across Canada and there are always a few bad apples around, but in my view there’s no reason why the regulations have to be this extensive.”

The B.C. government passed the Private Investigators and Security Agencies Act in 1996 and it remains the most comprehensive legislation regulating the home security industry in the country today. Like a lot of laws passed regulating private business, it was designed to protect consumers from fraud, but security company owners like Vickers say this particular legislation goes too far.

The province requires everyone from business owners to installers to be licenced and Vickers says the extensive background check and fingerprinting required simply takes too long.

“You have to wait weeks, sometimes months to get a licence,” says Vickers. “It makes it difficult to hire good people when you have to tell them they can’t work for the first six weeks. Especially when they can walk into an office in downtown Calgary and start working right away.”

Michael Jagger, the president of Provident Security in Vancouver, sees the problems.

“It can literally take months to get someone licenced,” he says. “There’s been challenges and growing pains with this legislation and at the licencing offices and I think even they would admit there are issues and inordinate delays.”

It’s not that Jagger would want to see no regulation at all, he would just like licences expedited in a reasonable amount of time and updated standards that make sense in an industry that often changes quickly.
“It’s completely outdated right now,” he says. “We’ve got regulations that say any technician who touches a burglar alarm system needs to be licenced, but someone installing an access control system or CCTV doesn’t. Well, where do you think most of our business is these days? Cameras are huge.”

Regulating a certain level of technical qualifications in the industry makes sense, but Jagger says a 10-year-old piece of legislation is hardly getting the job done.

“Standards are important, but my personal feeling is that our clients hold us to a very high standard already,” he says. “In an open market, these things sort themselves out. Consumers are savvy enough to tell the difference between quality products, quality work and everything else.”

And while Vickers says he understands the need to protect consumers from fraud, he wonders if existing criminal law isn’t enough.

“Where was the problem to begin with across Canada?” he asks. “How many times in the last 10 years has a burglar alarm installer been charged with a crime? It’s not typical or common in this business. I refuse to believe the statistics are there to warrant this kind of expenditure. I just think there are so many better ways to waste taxpayer dollars.”

B.C. Attorney General John Les says the statistics are not the point. “This is clearly not a business where anyone would want undesirables to be active,” he explained. “This is one of those areas the consumer does expect a higher level of protection from the government. The nature of the business is that people have access to homes and properties. Is it reasonable, in this kind of business, to have a criminal record check? I think it is.”
Les admits the Criminal Code is enough to prosecute individuals who rip people off, but suggested it is only logical to try to keep criminals out of the business in the first place. “This is just the type of business where it makes sense to screen out undesirables,” he says.

As to the lengthy licencing delays, Les says they simply aren’t there. “This is the first I’ve ever heard of this type of complaint. I did a little checking and I’m told applications are processed inside of a week, normally. It’s not an onerous process and if in fact they are turning around the applications across the board inside of a week, we believe the process is working just fine.”

The same kind of problems alarm installers are claiming in B.C. could be headed across the entire country.
Sandy Hislop, past-president of CANASA and its acting advisor for self regulation, says several provinces are in the midst of putting together legislation that could change the way alarm installers do business.

Alberta has no regulation at all, but the provincial government is undergoing a full review of the issue and Manitoba is headed in that same direction.

But the biggest changes are coming in Quebec, where Bill 88 was enacted by the National Assembly this past June. The provincial government is in the process of refining new regulations that will cut across the entire security industry. Once it’s done, it is expected that Bill 88 will surpass B.C.’s Private Investigators and Security Agencies Act as the most comprehensive legislation in the country.

Not only will the regulations cover alarm installers, but those installing video and electronic surveillance equipment and anyone involved in the service and maintenance of security hardware.
Hislop maintains some regulation is a good thing.

“A lot of people inside the industry don’t like regulation,” he says. “But when there are technical qualifications attached at least you know someone has the training and I think that’s an important issue.”

The difference in Quebec is the province is not creating the new regulations without help.

“The nice thing they’ve done is create the private security bureau and its members will include people from the private sector,” Hislop says. “This way, the industry helps write the regulations and not just the bureaucrats.”
But with an industry divided over the issue, consultation can create as many problems as it solves and few may end up completely satisfied with the outcome.”

Brian Robertson, the Ontario regional chairperson of the Canadian Society for Industrial Security, says stakeholders often have trouble defining the kind of regulations the home security business truly needs.

“(In B.C.) they are saying they are over regulated, but what they actually mean is there is a disconnect between how much administrative cost and hassle they must go through and the legislation’s ability to have any affect at all in terms of keeping sleazy people out of the business,” he says. “There’s really no such thing as over regulation in private security, just regulations that don’t work.”

Published March 26, 2007 · SP&T News · Written by Martin Derbyshire

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