Nova Scotia

Cape Breton police chief defends lie-detector use in hiring, despite fire department objections

Cape Breton regional fire officials say polygraph tests are driving away potential firefighter recruits, but police Chief Robert Walsh says lie-detectors are not the deciding factor in whether someone gets hired.

They are useful as one part of the employment process, he said after last Thursday’s police commission meeting.

“The polygraph is really a tool to help us in better focusing our investigation or our research into people’s background, if there’s any concerning behaviours around lifestyle or association with criminality,” Walsh said.

Polygraph results are not admissible in Canadian courts because they are unreliable, but the police chief said they are not as black and white as people may think.

“For example, if somebody does something, especially as a young person, that’s not held against them forever,” Walsh said.

“It’s about truth verification. It’s about are you honest about it. How long has it been since that event happened in your life? Have you distanced yourself from those behaviours or those people in your life?”

Committee unanimously supports review

In May, the CBRM’s fire and emergency services committee voted unanimously to support a request from the new fire chief and his deputies to have staff write an issue paper on the use of polygraphs in the firefighter hiring process.

They said the use of lie-detector tests has hurt their ability to attract good candidates.

In CBRM, the police administer polygraphs in the hiring process for police, the fire department and the 911 call centre.

Even though Halifax police have discontinued the practice for recruits in their department, Walsh told reporters polygraphs are still widely used in policing in Canada.

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However, the method has undergone changes recently, he said.

‘A measured approach’

For example, the Atlantic Police Academy uses polygraph tests on cadets, so Cape Breton police no longer have recruits redo the process.

Senior officers from elsewhere undergo a security interview rather than a lie-detector test, Walsh said.

“I think it’s a measured approach. I think there’s ways to use the tool differently and better support our recruiting.”

There is no deadline on when the CBRM staff review will be completed.

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