What Is Security Clearance? Types and Requirements for Jobs in Canada

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

A security clearance is required for any job in Canada where you’ll come into contact with protected information or work sites. Here’s a guide to the different types and how to get clearance.

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A security clearance is like a background check. It is required for individuals who are hired for Canadian government jobs or any organization that handles information pertaining to national security. The security clearance process ensures your ability to securely access, manage, and protect classified information.

A security clearance is required for many government and cybersecurity roles worldwide. However, this article focuses on national security clearance in Canada. It examines the process of obtaining a security clearance, the different types of security clearances that exist, and the jobs that may require them.

What is a security clearance?

A security clearance is a tiered status. It is typically granted to employees working federal government agency jobs and private contractors who work with the government. This comprehensive process examines your criminal record, credit history, and other personal details to confirm you “demonstrate suitability and reliability throughout the assessment process” [1]. You must receive security clearance before you can begin working.

Examples of organizations that require higher tiers of clearance include national security agencies such as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). 

A brief history of Canadian security clearance

Canada began issuing security clearances in 1986 as part of standard-setting efforts to regulate how security in different parts of the government was handled. 


Levels of security clearance

National security clearances are organized into a hierarchy. Each of the three levels below indicates the maximum level of classified information you can access [2]: 

  • Reliability status: This type of security clearance is the least restrictive. It provides access to protected A, B, or C information. It must be reinvestigated for continued eligibility every 10 years. Additionally, confidential clearance requires personal and professional references, a financial inquiry, and a law enforcement inquiry.

  • Secret clearance: Provides access to classified information. Must be reinvestigated for continued eligibility every 10 years and requires reliability status and a CSIS check. 

  • Top secret clearance: This type of security clearance is the most restrictive and provides access to information that can cause grave damage to national security if disclosed without authorization. Must be reinvestigated for continued eligibility every five years. The checks for this level of clearance include obtaining secret clearance, then additional checks into foreign travel, foreign assets, military service, and more. 

Both reliability status and top secret status have an “enhanced” level. For enhanced reliability status, you’ll need to undergo a slightly more rigorous law enforcement check and additional security questions. For enhanced top secret status, you’ll need to obtain top secret status plus enhanced security checks, CSIS checks, and even a polygraph exam.

Jobs that require security clearance

Anyone who works in a job that requires access to national security information requires clearance. This includes people in federal government and military jobs, from executive-level roles to non-sensitive positions in custodial staff. These roles may include librarians, IT system administrators, and more. Clearance levels must be at or higher than the level of information you will handle. They also vary according to your position, responsibilities, and the systems you use in your role.

In addition to federal agencies, those working for private organizations that have contracts with the government require a security clearance. Employees of companies, non-profit organizations, think tanks, and research organizations with federal contracts or grants may need to undergo this background investigation.

Agencies that deal with the intelligence community, federal law enforcement, diplomacy, and military often require higher levels of clearance. Besides the CSIS and RCMP mentioned above, these agencies include the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Communication Security Establishment, Public Safety Canada, and more.

How to obtain a security clearance

For any government-related jobs that require access to classified data, successful applicants will receive a job offer contingent upon obtaining a national security clearance. The main steps for the security clearance process are:

1. Application

The process of gaining security clearance in Canada begins with your company security officer (CSO). They will complete the preliminary paperwork to get you started. This will require presenting two pieces of identification, one a foundational document and another a supporting document. 

2. Investigation

Depending on the level of clearance you are looking to obtain, you will undergo a series of checks on your identification, background, employment, credit history, and more. The RCMP will conduct an inquiry, and so will CSIS for most clearance levels. You may have to provide character witnesses in addition to financial statements and fingerprints. 

This process may take a long time. If any agency involved is backlogged or needs more information, it could take anywhere from a couple of months to a year. In most cases, you will need to have security clearance before beginning work. At the end of the investigation, you will be granted or denied clearance.

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Jobs in cybersecurity are in high demand, with a job outlook across the country through 2025 designated “good” to “very good” by Job Bank Canada [3]. Consider IBM’s Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate to launch your career without spending time or money on a degree, all while learning at your own pace. You can learn concepts like network security, threat intelligence, and penetration testing.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Article sources


Government of Canada. "Security and suitability requirements, https://www.fintrac-canafe.gc.ca/emplo/req-eng." Accessed May 6, 2024.

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