Politics

CBSA did not know whereabouts of 34,000 foreign nationals slated for removal: AG report

Of the 50,000 enforceable cases in the agency's inventory, CBSA didn't know where two thirds were

Posted: July 08, 2020
Last Updated: July 08, 2020

The auditor general found despite a recent increase in removals, about 50,000 enforceable cases piled up in the CBSA's inventory during the time of her audit. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Canada's border agency did not know the whereabouts of tens of thousands of foreign nationals who were ordered to leave the country, according to a scathing new report from the auditor general.

"We concluded that the Canada Border Services Agency did not remove the majority of individuals who were subject to enforceable removal orders as soon as possible to protect the integrity of the immigration system and maintain public safety," notes the audit, released this morning. 

Auditor General Karen Hogan and her staff took a deep dive into whether the CBSA removed individuals legally ordered to leave the country as soon as possible and whether it co-ordinated information with the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, an independent tribunal, and the department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. 

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The review looked at all of the cases in the CBSA's data management system as of April 2019 by inventory.

Despite a recent increase in removals, about 50,000 enforceable cases piled up in the agency's inventory, notes the report.

"In two-thirds [34,700] of these cases, the agency did not know the whereabouts of the individuals. Most of the accumulated cases had been enforceable for several years," it says.

Failed asylum claimants majority of those ordered to leave

Foreign nationals found inadmissible to Canada include failed asylum claimants, visitors who overstay their visas or those with criminal ties.

The audit said failed asylum claimants make up the largest share of those ordered to leave each year.

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About 2,800 files in the "wanted inventory" are criminal cases, meaning the CBSA has identified those individuals as people who may pose a safety risk because of criminal convictions, charges or human rights violations, or because they have ties to organized crime or pose a national security risk.

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Criminal cases languish unresolved, on average, for more than a decade, according to the AG's findings.

The audit did not look into whether any of those flagged individuals committed a crime while awaiting deportation.

Officials with the auditor general's office said the CBSA lost track of individuals for a variety of reasons, including people not showing up for their hearings or skipping out on their reporting conditions.

When an individual goes missing, the CBSA can issue an immigration warrant for their arrest. The audit says the CBSA did issue such warrants but rarely completed the annual investigations to locate those with criminal connections.

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WATCH | CBSA unable to locate thousands of people slated for deportation: AG report:

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A report from the auditor general found that the Canada Border Service Agency didn’t know the whereabouts of 34,700 foreign nationals who were supposed to be deported.  1:59

The CBSA did not conduct the regular follow-ups to locate these individuals, which involves opening their files at least every three years — or once a year for people with criminal histories — says the review.

The audit also found that poor data quality slowed the process down and resulted in cases missing from the agency's removal inventories. 

"Because of delays in processing data received from federal partners, the agency did not have the information it needed to track the status of removal orders," it said.

"Among cases with enforceable orders, we found that many were inactive or stalled because of poor case management, even some that were considered high priority. Furthermore, many cases we examined were stalled because of missing travel documents, such as passports — yet little was done to obtain these documents."

'Damning' report, says Wesley Wark

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Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, whose party promised to to end illegal crossings by asylum seekers during the 2019 election, said the federal government needs to take removal orders more seriously.

"Clearly, this is another example of the Liberal government being unable to to ensure that we have a fair, orderly and compassionate immigration system," he told a press conference this morning.

"Obviously we need a government that takes this kind of thing seriously, that when people have been found to have either fraudulently represented their cases or found to be ineligible to be in Canada — in order to respect the integrity of our system — that those decisions have to be followed up."

Wesley Wark, a University of Ottawa professor and one of the country's top intelligence experts, described the findings of the report as "pretty damning."

"If you can't really enforce the removal provisions of various acts that underpin the Canada Border Services Agency, then that strikes a blow to the integrity of the whole immigration refugee system and the whole process of border enforcement, which is CBSA's main responsibility," he told CBC News. 

Wark also said that failing to deal with priority cases, such as dangerous criminals who may pose a threat to Canadians, is an even larger problem.

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"The fact that CBSA is unable even to deal with those priority cases gives you an indication that this isn't just a bureaucratic problem," he said. "It's a problem that speaks to Canada's national security."

CBSA accepts recommendations 

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, whose portfolio includes the CBSA, said his department will accept all the recommendations made by the auditor general in her report to improve the agency's removal strategy. 

"The CBSA is taking steps to locate foreign nationals whose whereabouts are unknown by completing a review of all outstanding cases, prioritizing criminal cases, and focusing investigations on the most concerning cases," he said in a statement.

In addition to improving its removals strategy, the border agency will enhance the way it tracks and triages cases to ensure priority ones are addressed quickly, Blair said in a statement.

"This includes continuing to implement a data integrity strategy to ensure that it can quickly identify the stages all cases are at so they can move forward in a timely fashion."

Blair said the border agency will improve the way it tracks cases to ensure priority ones are addressed quickly,

Finally, the agency will develop an "incentive program" to increase voluntary compliance, the minister said.