Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Vigilance, Accountability and Security at Canada's Borders

An image of the CBSA's patch on an officer
Canada Border Services Agency's emblem. Photo: The Toronto Star/Border Officer Blows Coke Bust

Today's blog post is about a report of the same title, issued by the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence (hereafter referred to as "the Committee") that commenced a study on the policies, practices, and collaborative efforts of Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). The purpose of the study was to determine how the CBSA performs its responsibilities in identifying and denying entry to inadmissible persons, as well as the removal of individuals that have been discovered to be inadmissible after having gained entry to Canada.

Vigilance, Accountability and Security at Canada's Borders was a report that I initially discovered through the campaign of Kellie Leitch, leadership candidate for the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), who had encouraged the reading of this report on numerous occasions through social media, in her email messages, and on television.

It has only been through Kellie Leitch's campaign that the issue of Canada's open borders has come to the forefront of the CPC leadership race. No other candidate has been clear, complete, and forthcoming about this issue as Kellie Leitch has from day one of her campaign, which she has responded to and detailed in her Screening For Canadian Values policy proposal. 

If this is the first you have been alerted to Canada's open borders and are somewhat skeptical, perhaps you would find the following information cause for concern: 

  • In 2013, 4,534 warrants were issued for the removal of foreign nationals or permanent residents, who had entered Canada, but were later discovered to be inadmissible.
  • The CBSA database contains information on approximately 44,000 inadmissible individuals who failed to comply with removal orders, and the agency is unclear about the number of individuals who are still in Canada.
  • It takes the CBSA an average of 851 days to remove a person found inadmissible, all at a cost to Canadian taxpayers.
  • Currently, there is no tracking system in Canada for persons leaving the country who have been found to be inadmissible, and who have failed to comply with a removal order and are facing an outstanding immigration warrant, or those overstaying their limits such as temporary foreign workers.
  • It is known that 145 Canadians have gone abroad to support terrorist groups and approximately 80 have returned. 
  • Through its Liaison Officer program, the CBSA has confirmed that liaison officers are involved in approximately 6,000 cases of improperly documented travel each year.
  • The targeting of Canada's immigration system by organized crime groups continues unabated.
  • Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has reduced the visa immigration process to a "paper-based exercise" where very few face-to-face interviews are held.
  • The Committee discovered that only between 9-15% of immigrants are interviewed by a visa officer before they come to Canada.
  • Between 2009 to 2013, Canada received 386,698 temporary foreign workers and 495,191 foreign students, of which only a small percentage were screened by Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) based on referrals from CIC and CSBA.
  • In 2012, Canada's busiest 50 airports saw the enplaning and deplaning of 23,609,330 passengers from countries other than the United States, an increase of 190% over the 12,660,777 passengers seen in 2003.

The Committee's report detailed many of the policy and operational challenges facing the CBSA and other government actors—Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS), and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)—involved in the process of determining admissibility to Canada and removal of inadmissible individuals.

To properly ascertain how the CBSA performs its responsibilities the Committee conducting a fact-finding mission to the National Targeting Centre in September 2014, and held eight hearings over a four month period. During that time it heard witnesses and received written submissions from relevant institutions, groups, and individuals, both within government and from civil society.

The Committee's report resulted in ten recommendations that not only identified the problems with, but also provided the solutions to, the procedures and practices of the CBSA that, in my view, are logical, necessary, and urgent. The fundamental problem with Canada's open borders can be summed up in what the Committee referred to as its "primary belief"; that is, "...[I]t is necessary that relevant departments and agencies involved in the process of identifying and denying entry to inadmissible persons to Canada have access to timely, accurate and relevant information through clear information sharing arrangements and improved coordination." (iv)

Removals, Warrants and Entry/Exit Registration

Under the subheading, Removals, Warrants and Entry/Exit Registration, the Committee's report begins to seriously address the deficiencies within the CBSA's operations, specifically with respect to the inability to locate and remove inadmissible persons from Canada; those who have failed to comply with a removal order and are subsequently faced with an outstanding immigration warrant.

As to the procedure of how the CBSA operates, here is how the Committee explained it, drawing from Division 6 Detention and Release of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA)"With regard to procedure, removal orders are issued when a foreign national or a permanent resident who has entered Canada has been found to be inadmissible. In instances where a person has failed to comply with a removal order, the CBSA is responsible for enforcement and issues immigration warrants, accordingly." (7) 

The Committee noted that the CBSA's warrants-database contains information on 44,000 inadmissible individuals who did not comply with their removal orders. The Committee went on to further note that the CBSA is unclear as to how many of these individuals still remain in Canada.

What further exacerbates this problem is that it takes the CBSA an average of 851 days to remove a person found to be inadmissible, all at a cost to Canadian taxpayers.

Currently Canada does not have a system to track and record who has left the country, nor any type of alert mechanism to ensure that the CBSA is informed when a temporary resident visa holder enters and leaves the country. This concerned the Committee with regard to temporary foreign workers who may decide to overstay their four year limits of working in Canada. 

To solve this problem the Committee provided its fourth recommendation which states, "...[T]he Government of Canada move, as soon as possible, to implement a system to register the entry and exit of all travellers, Canadians and non-Canadians." (9) Entry and exit reporting would solve the problem of knowing when inadmissible persons (and those who have overstayed their limits) have left the country, which would also prevent the current backlog the CBSA is faced with from growing.

All this points to an even bigger and more fundamental problem with Canada's open borders: the lack of proper and thorough screening of all immigrants and travellers to Canada.

Screening of Immigrants and Travellers to Canada

Under the subheading, Screening of Immigrants and Travellers to Canadathe Committee detailed their concerns about screening and pre-screening of non-Canadians who enter Canada, either as immigrants or on temporary visas. They responded to these concerns with their fifth, sixth, and seventh recommendations.

An image of the Committee's 5, 6, 7 recommendations
The Committee's Recommendations 5, 6, and 7.

The thrust of this section of the report focused primarily on a preventative approach; that is, improving upon the pre-screening process. This included placing priority on acquiring a foreign national's admissibility to Canada prior to boarding a plane or ship from their country of origin. The Committee also noted that this would be beneficial to Canada, ensuring that our resources would not be spent on the appeals and removals processes.

Implementing such a preventative approach involves more than just the CBSA. The Canada Border Services Agency works together with CIC, CSIS, and the RCMP. The Committee noted that both the CIC and CBSA are jointly responsible for administering the admissibility provisions of the IRPA. The report goes on to state that, "CIC establishes immigration policy and is responsible for issuing visas enabling foreign nationals to enter Canada. For its part, the CBSA enforces IRPA and is responsible for providing IRPA–related intelligence. In this regard, the CBSA draws upon intelligence and information from other departments and agencies, including CSIS and the RCMP." (11)

One of the most important points the Committee spotlighted was the need to make effective use today's technology. Here is what the Committee stated:
In this day and age, it is reasonable to assume that CIC and the CBSA should be able to request a query of permanent resident and temporary visa applicants against RCMP criminal and CSIS intelligence databases, and a consolidated Canadian intelligence community list of persons of interest, to see if they generate a hit. Verifying applicant names through applicable security and foreign intelligence databases could provide an essential backstop to checks for criminal records maintained in the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC). As previously noted, not all human threats have criminal records. However, their names (or aliases) might well be known to intelligence agencies. (13)
Perhaps what is most telling about Canada's open borders is the fact that only 9-15% of immigrants are interviewed by a visa officer before they come to Canada. The Committee heard from witnesses who expressed concerned that, "...CIC has subsequently turned the immigrant visa application process into a 'paper-based exercise' where very few face-to-face interviews are held." (14) 

The importance of face-to-face interviews cannot be overstated! This point was reinforced by former ambassador Martin Collacott, now the spokesperson for the Centre for Immigration Policy Reform, who expressed the following concerns:
Such interviews are important for a number of reasons. A face-to-face interview not only assists a Canadian visa officer to get a better idea of whether an applicant is likely to constitute a security threat to Canada – whether they are likely, for example, to have extremist views which are in conflict with Canadian views, values and objectives – but such an interview also provides an opportunity to give a prospective immigrant important and accurate background on what to expect in terms of job opportunities and integration into Canadian society. (14)
The Committee affirmed the importance of face-to-face screening by stating that, "...[G]iven the complexity in screening potential citizens to Canada, face-to-face interviews may provide an important opportunity for assessment." (14)

Another individual that further spotlighted Canada's deficient screening process was retired ambassador James Bissett. The Committee noted the following about his statement:
...[T]he CBSA and CIC are overwhelmed by the large number of people seeking to come to Canada, either as immigrants or visitors. He states: “because of high volumes, we are not paying attention to the personal interview and for human intelligence to play a role in screening. More importantly, Mr. Bissett told the Committee, “the security screening itself is minimal” and noted that visitors and temporary resident applicants are “not being interviewed or very few of them screened for security.” He added, “I think [Canada is] taking a serious risk. (15)
Bissett's statement brings to the forefront what appears to be another major problem with securing our borders: not enough CBSA/CIC personnel to accommodate a proper and thorough screening process.

Some of the Committee's other findings

To counter the use of genuine documents generated in fraudulent circumstances or used by those other than the rightful owner, the Committee explored the options of: improving the CIC screening referral process; the increased use of CSIS and the RCMP information for screening; better intelligence sharing and interagency cooperation; more face-to-face interviews; and the collection of biometric data. 

The Committee also learned of the need for stronger intelligence capabilities within the CBSA, and in particular, the leveraging of regional intelligence capabilities and greater availability of "lookouts" (part of the CSBA's intelligence products that inform, support and enhance the agency's screening and targeting capabilities) to provide accurate, up-to-date actionable intelligence in the databases, that includes the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database for use by CBSA Border Services Officers.

The CBSA and its role in securing Canada's borders

Created after the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, the CBSA was formed out of border and enforcement personnel from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the former Canada Customs and Revenue Agency and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The CBSA is responsible for, "...[P]roviding integrated border services that support national security and public safety priorities and facilitate the free flow of persons and goods, including animals and plants that meet all requirements under the program legislation. (3) 

As the front-line agency, the CBSA with its 13,000 employees (which includes 7,200 uniformed officers) administers the entry and exit of approximately 100 million travellers, 70 million of whom come directly from the Canada-US land border. The report notes that, "The agency collects, analyzes and disseminates information and intelligence about individuals and shipments at borders, air terminals and ports. The CBSA also administers more than 90 statutes, regulations and international agreements, and enforces the IRPA. (3)

The CSBA has a shared responsibility with other agencies and departments in protecting Canada's borders:
Citizenship and Immigration Canada processes immigration applications for permanent residents and temporary resident visas for visitors, students and workers. The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) reviews all citizenship applications of permanent residents, as well as all refugee claims made in Canada; the Service will review visa applications of persons of interest as required, while the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) enforces relevant laws and provides criminal background checks. The Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD), Transport Canada, and the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) gather intelligence relating to immigration and border transit. (3)

The CBSA is responsible for managing 117 land border crossings, all thirteen international airports in Canada, major marinas, mail processing centers and rail sites.

The CBSA is also vested with powers of arrest, detention, search and seizure. All CBSA officers can, under Canadian law, stop travellers for questioning, take blood and breath samples, search, detain and arrest citizens and non-citizens without a warrant.

Vigilance, Accountability and Security at Canada's Borders is certainly a timely report given the fact that our open borders are increasingly making Canada a very popular international destination that brings with it increased security risks.

We all read the headlines of the demographic nightmares in Sweden, France, Germany, the UK, Belgium, Holland and other European countries; not to mention what has happened in United States in the past few years. We do not need, nor do we want any such scenarios developing in Canada! 

Canada needs political leadership to ensure that our borders are properly secured, and that our Canadian identity is protected and promoted. The call for that leadership has been answered with the candidacy of Kellie Leitch, who is adamant about correcting Canada's open borders.

I respectfully encourage you to support her by Becoming a Conservative Member for Kellie LeitchBy doing so, you will be eligible to vote for her in May and help secure Kellie's victory as the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. The deadline is March 28, only a few days away!

God bless Canada.

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