03/16/2015 04:36 EDT | Updated 05/16/2015 05:59 EDT

Public service unions protest 'invasive' security screening

The union representing professional public employees has filed a policy grievance after credit checks were added to standard mandatory security screening for public servants.

All federal departments and agencies have until October 2017 to implement the requirements of the new standard on security screening, which came into effect in October 2014, for new and current public servants, the Treasury Board confirmed.

"A credit check will be reviewed as part of the complete assessment of reliability and trustworthiness when dealing with sensitive government information," Treasury Board spokeswoman Lisa Murphy told CBC News in an email.

"This practice is common in certain private industries [such as financial services] to indicate excessive indebtedness that may increase temptation to commit unethical acts."

Criminal record checks are also part of security screening, and will include obtaining a person’s fingerprints for certain positions as of July 2015, she said.

"This would apply to positions that are related to or directly support security and intelligence functions," Murphy said. "This will not change the information being checked or released but provides a higher level of security than the results of a name-based criminal record check."

The standard screening applies to about 90 per cent of positions and contracts, she said.

Union calls new screening 'very invasive'

"It's very invasive, particularly fingerprinting, which is akin to sort of any other bodily sample that you might require from an employee," said Isabelle Roy, general counsel for the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.

While the union for professional public servants has already filed a grievance with the Treasury Board, the Public Service Alliance of Canada said it is still considering how to challenge the screening.

"We're very confused about the whole need for this," said union vice-president Chris Aylward. 

"We certainly don't agree with just simply a blanket approach to it, because it's certainly going to affect the most vulnerable. When you look at people who are in bad financial situations, putting this weight on them about having to be concerned, maybe, about future employment, that's certainly an issue."

Industry Canada employee Sandra Tremblay said the new screening with a credit check goes too far.

"[It] could be a mistake from when you're younger and you didn't pay your credit card," she said.

She also doubted whether an employee facing towering debt would even be able to reduce it by stealing from work.

"I think with all the procedures that are in place — you cannot take money out of the government like that — it's a little bit intrusive," Tremblay said.