Reality check: Are Canada’s border and immigration controls too lax?
If you’re crossing into Canada by car, there’s a chance you — and your vehicle — won’t be properly screened as you pass a border checkpoint.
The supervisor monitoring the checkpoint may not have been trained to detect possible corruption or rule-breaking by the guard who waves you through, and probably hasn’t been watching that guard very closely over the past few shifts.
And the guard himself may have shared his computer login information with another border officer, making it harder to track which one of them actually dealt with you as you entered the country.
Those are just some of the holes in Canada’s border and immigration control systems that need to be patched, the federal auditor general reported on Tuesday.
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In an audit conducted as part of his spring reports to Parliament, Michael Ferguson also noted border guards handed over about 113 temporary resident permits last year to travellers “without appropriate justification.”
In many cases, border guards issue the permits to people with criminal convictions, some punishable by a prison term of at least 10 years under Canadian law.
Tuesday’s report is likely to raise eyebrows at a time when border security and screening of foreign nationals is top-of-mind among Canadians and in the House of Commons.
Thousands of people crossing the border illegally, away from designated checkpoints, in order to file an asylum claim in Canada have forced the Liberal government and various departments to adapt their procedures over the last six months.
But the auditor general’s findings confirm that Canada is also facing problems when it comes to basic screening of people moving across our borders legally — for work, study or leisure.
“There were cars, many cars — 300,000 cars in fact — that came across the border into Canada for which they have no record of who was in those vehicles,” Ferguson said in a prepared video statement.
The good news is the number of cars and people getting through our security nets without proper vetting is, relatively speaking, small. The 113 improperly issued temporary resident permits, for example, represent only 4 per cent of the total permits issued over the course of 12 months.
The 300,000 cars that get past border guards without “undergoing all elements of a required inspection” represent just two per cent of all the vehicles entering Canada in a year.
No signs of major corruption
The other good news is that both the Canada Border Services Agency and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada recognize their staff is at risk of corruption by people willing to pay bribes, or even engage in blackmail, to get into Canada. And officials are doing something about it.
“We found that both organizations … developed controls—policies, procedures, processes, and activities—to mitigate the risks (of corruption),” Ferguson writes.
“However, neither organization adequately monitored the controls to ensure they were working as intended.”
The auditor general did not find widespread corruption among CBSA officers, immigration staff or staff working overseas, however. Security screening of employees was also up-to-date and adequate, his report noted.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale called that “a very welcome finding” on Tuesday afternoon.
“I want to emphasize emphatically that there is no evidence of corruption of border services found during this audit,” the minister said.
Goodale added that “we will continue to enhance monitoring activities to ensure that these risk controls continue to be working as expected.”
Among other risk-management tactics, the Canadian government provides managers in its visa offices abroad with an annual checklist to help them minimize the risk of corruption among locally engaged staff (foreign nationals working for Canada abroad) who help review visa applications.
“For example, checklists covered measures to prevent collusion between locally engaged staff who were related, and to identify whether Canada-based staff were located in work areas in order to supervise locally engaged staff,” the auditor’s report states.
But the document goes on to flag some issues linked to visa applications. Specifically, Ferguson found that locally engaged staff at one mission abroad were able to access their own visa application files in the computer system, and share certain information with people who weren’t authorized to see it. Both are against the rules.
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