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Credit checks should not be needed to “determine an individual’s reliability and trustworthiness” for employment, especially with the government

By Kristy Koehler, February 3 2021—

Some of the policies of the Liberal Party of Canada include raising people out of poverty, bolstering the middle class … and making sure job applicants pass a credit check?

Statistics Canada is hiring approximately 32,000 people to work as enumerators and crew leads for the 2021 Census. The StatsCan website issues a friendly-looking call to action for applications, encouraging those eligible to work in Canada who are over the age of 18 to join the census team. 

A closer look at the hiring process reveals that applicants will be asked to submit to a credit check. The Frequently Asked Questions portion of the website states that credit checks are used “to determine an individual’s reliability and trustworthiness” as well as to verify accuracy of information such as name and place of residence. Interestingly, it’s use as a determiner of reliability is listed first. 

Not once, not twice, but three times, in three separate points, the FAQ reiterates that credit checks are a measure of reliability. 

The FAQ’s Point 17 purports to answer just what an individual’s credit score has to do with security risks:

“The overall reliability assessment takes into account an individual’s trustworthiness in terms of protecting government assets, information and facilities,” it says. “A credit check validates financial information and can flag individuals who might be subject to financial pressures that could negatively affect their reliability.”

Credit checks are not new for Government of Canada employees. The new Standard on Security Screening screening procedures came into effect on Oct. 20, 2014 as a means of establishing a “risk-based approach to security screening.”

An FAQ about those changes, on StatsCan’s website, states that “information that may be of concern would be an inability to make payments on time, accounts placed for collections or written off by financial institutions as unrecoverable or a very high ratio of debt to income.”

In the middle of a pandemic, in an economic downturn, the Liberal government apparently believes that people subject to financial pressures may be a security risk. To be clear, credit checks aren’t just for people privy to government secrets, they’re not just for applicants to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, they’re for people who want to work as census enumerators. 

Reporting from the Canadian Press indicates that the privacy commissioner’s office has pressed the Treasury Board Secretariat to justify some of the security screening standards and that the government has “not demonstrated the need” for several of the measures.

Matthew Green, NDP Member of Parliament for Hamilton Centre and Treasury Board Critic, has some strong words about the policy. 

“It’s bullshit,” he said in a statement. “A low credit score may show when a person was experiencing financial distress but does nothing to explain a person’s trustworthiness.

“I can’t see why someone who in the past has had challenges affording to pay their bills, or who has been forced to live month-to-month on credit cards, or has had to skip student loan payments should be excluded from working as a census enumerator,” the statement continues. “You would think that these are exactly the kind of people we would want to support through government employment. Instead this Liberal government has instituted a form of poverty-shaming.”

Even under the best of conditions, visible minorities are more likely to experience poverty, according to StatsCan. Why then, is the Liberal government continuing to prolong the cycle of poverty instead of trying to make life easier for people? 

“Credit score reviews have been shown to disproportionately impact Indigenous, working-class people, women, racialized people and newcomers who are more likely to experience income insecurity. I’m worried that some people won’t apply for these jobs simply so they can avoid another credit check,” said Green in his statement. “The private companies that are used to compile credit scores can and do make mistakes and it’s incredibly difficult to get your credit score corrected. It’s even more challenging when you don’t have the resources to fight to fix your credit score.

“I’m deeply disappointed that a Treasury Board policy is institutionalizing this inequality and its being applied in a way that will screen out people who are competent, capable and willing to do the work required, especially after the year we just experienced, with literally millions of Canadians losing their jobs due to COVID 19.”

Considering that money mishaps can stay on a credit report for six or more years, denying people the ability to get a job and better their financial situation based on their credit score is simply perpetuating a vicious cycle.

Green agreed that we should be working to remove barriers to employment for people in Canada, “not using these dystopian social credit-like filters to keep working people out.” 

The Government of Canada’s website even admits that poor credit could “affect your ability to rent a house or apartment or get hired for a job.” Guess who can change that? The Government of Canada.

It’s time for the Liberals to end practices that make it harder for people to get jobs or all their talk about helping the average Canadian will start to ring even more hollow. Requiring a credit check as a condition of employment is a discriminatory, poverty-perpetuating practice that needs to be abolished — yesterday.

This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.

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