Beyond the Headlines

Bordering on silence

Posted: Mar 20, 2013 1:41 PM ET Last Updated: Mar 20, 2013 1:41 PM ET

Journalists ask a lot of questions. It's our job. But increasingly, with some federal government agencies, getting answers is proving to be frustrating, and at times, all but fruitless.

Let me tell you about our experience this week with the Canada Border Service Agency, the federal department tasked with "keeping Canada's border open to travel and trade but closed to crime."

We received a tip that two crewmen from the Wadi Alarab, an Egyptian-registered bulk carrier moored at Halterm, were AWOL.

We put in a call to the CBSA, gave them the information we had, and asked for confirmation. Their local communications advisors promised to check it out and get back to us.

We waited, and waited.  And waited. No one returned our calls.

At the same time we called the Halifax Regional Police department. Within minutes we had a pretty good idea of what happened.

HRP told us that on March 12th, they received a call from the Halifax Port Authority saying a crew member from the Wadi Alarab was missing. Police responded, the crew member was found on Port property and returned to the ship.

Then on March 17th, police received another call from the Port saying that another crew member had failed to return to the ship. Halifax police say an officer checked out the bus station and was told a man matching his description had boarded the morning bus to Montreal. Police determined the bus was approaching Amherst so they asked that police department to stop and question the man.

They did, and that's where the story gets a bit murky.

Halifax police say while the man was being questioned by Amherst police they contacted the Canada Border Service Agency and were told that even though his ship was preparing to leave Halifax and he was headed to Montreal, there were no legal grounds to detain the crew member. Crew have up to 72 hours to report back to their ship, before being officially considered AWOL.

A few hours later the Wadi AlarabI eft Halifax destined for Port Cartier, a port on Quebec's north shore.

Through all this, we kept calling the CBSA  trying to confirm these details. Finally, the next day, more than 28 hours after making our first request, we received this email from the agency:

    Good Afternoon,

As per your request, please find below information related to this case. Please attribute to the Canada Border Services Agency.

While the CBSA does not speak to specifics in accordance with the Privacy Act, we can tell you that:

o   In cases where the CBSA suspects a contravention of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, we investigate and take appropriate action and all individuals are processed in accordance with Canadian immigration law.

o   The CBSA works closely with domestic and international partners, such as the RCMP and local police in its continued commitment to ensure the safety of our borders.

Thank you,

Communications - Canada Border Services Agency | Communications - Agence des services frontaliers du Canada

That's it.  A few policy quotes but no details about this specific case.

So that leaves us with a bunch of questions: Where is the crewman now? Did he ever find his way back to the ship? If not, does the CBSA have any idea where he is? Is he seeking refugee status or has he simply disappeared?

It's clear from their email that we will likely never get those answers from the agency that is keeping "our borders closed to crime."
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About the Author

Brian DuBreuil is a veteran journalist with CBC News. He has won two Gemini awards for his work, and neither involved dancing or singing on a reality show.

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