None of the measures CBSA uses provides a true picture of how well its controls are working
“EVERY passenger has a ‘story’… it’s our job to dig deeper for the truth,” according to a Canada Border Services Agency officer quoted in advertising for the government-supported television show “Border Security.”

The Auditor General has apparently found the truth about the CBSA, reporting that the audited systems and practices to prevent the illegal entry of people into Canada are often not operating as intended and that some people who pose a risk to Canadians’ safety and security have succeeded in entering the country.

He also found that the RCMP does not know whether resources are placed where they are most effective as part of its responsibility for protecting Canada’s borders.

These findings were in the Auditor General’s annual fall report filed in Parliament on Tuesday.

The CBSA is responsible for preventing illegal entry at ports of entry and relies on several systems and practices to assess the risk associated with each traveler and to decide if they should be admitted to Canada. The RCMP is responsible for enforcing the law when people cross illegally between ports of entry. They both rely on information gathered from local, Canadian and international sources.

The CBSA increased spending on admissibility determination from $662 million in 2010-11 to a forecast spending in 2012-13 of $733-million. However, it plans to reduce its spending on that program to $584-million in 2015-16. The RCMP’s border integrity program is part of its police operation mandate. The Auditor General reports that the CBSA and the RCMP spend about $728-million per year combined on their border control activities.

The CBSA targets potential inadmissible travelers as soon as it can before they arrive in Canada by issuing lookouts and, for airline passengers, collects information on them before their arrival. It then relies on the judgment of border services officers to identify and intercept inadmissible people. In 2011-12 the CBSA denied entry to 54,000 people at ports of entry and intercepted another 4,000 overseas.


THE Auditor General previously audited the CBSA in 2007 and identified weaknesses with the lookout program then. Despite agreeing to make improvements six years ago, the CBSA has made little progress and still does not monitor all missed lookouts, nor does it input examination results on all intercepted lookouts. Eight percent of targets and 15 percent of lookouts were missed.

The RCMP uses surveillance cameras, routine patrols, or notifications from the CBSA, the United States border authorities, or the public to learn of illegal entries. It intercepts illegal entrants and delivers them to the CBSA’s local port of entry, and also arrests and takes into custody individuals suspected of helping with illegal entry. In 2011–12 the RCMP intercepted 1,277 people for entering Canada illegally between ports of entry.

The government plans several changes in the next few years, resulting from a 2011 joint Canada–United States plan. It will implement a new interactive advance passenger information program in fall 2015 that will require traveler data for commercial flights be provided up to 72 hours before departure. By July 2014, it hopes to develop an entry / exit information system to use passenger manifest information for flights leaving Canada to record the exit of individuals from the country. It expected to start a third plan this fall to further automate the CBSA’s targeting system based on passenger name records.

The auditor’s report notes that the quality of information provided by airlines was often incomplete, with no advance passenger information provided for six per cent of passengers in the sample it audited. Eleven per cent of passengers could not be assessed against any risk scenario because of inadequate passenger name data.

Despite this the CBSA claims the airlines had a 99-per-cent compliance rate, because it only considered compliance if any advance information was provided. That’s like giving a passing grade to a student if they only showed up for class, regardless if they learned anything.

According to the Auditor General none of the measures the CBSA uses provides a true picture of how well its controls are working to prevent the illegal entry of people into Canada.

Steven Blaney, the Public Safety Minister responsible for the CBSA and RCMP, responded Wednesday by saying, “We take our responsibilities very seriously when it comes to ensuring the safety and security of Canadian communities.”

Given the findings by the Auditor General that neither entity adequately measures its effectiveness the response appears hollow. It will need more than the hype for the “Border Security” show to prove that it is ensuring the safety and security of Canada’s borders.


William Macintosh is an immigration and citizenship lawyer who began practising in 1984. You can reach him for advice at 778-714-8787.