CBSA audit finds sloppy storage and disposal of items seized at border

Five years after a critical audit raised a red flag over the sloppy storage and disposal of goods seized at the border, a followup review finds little progress in key areas of handling potentially dangerous items.

Border agency made 'minimal progress' on security recommendations from 5 years ago

A Canada Border Services Agency officer and sniffer dog check out luggage during a demonstration at Toronto's Pearson airport in 2011. A followup audit of the agency's facilities found little progress in five areas of storage and disposal of seized goods, including guns and precursor chemicals used to make drugs. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press)

Five years after a critical audit raised a red flag over the sloppy storage and disposal of goods seized at the border, a followup review found little progress in key areas of tracking and handling the potentially dangerous items.

A new audit of the Canada Border Services Agency found improvement since 2009 on the transfer and disposal of drugs, firearms and child pornography, but "minimal improvement" in other areas of monitoring and oversight, access controls and security management at warehouses.

The audit warns that security gaps could compromise criminal investigations, put health and safety of staff at risk and harm the agency's reputation.

"In summary, the 2009 audit recommended the need to strengthen the control framework for seized goods. This followup audit found that minimal improvement had been made. Without sustained management oversight, assessment of risks and controls, and monitoring, seized goods may not be sufficiently safeguarded," the report reads.

The results are a "medium-high risk exposure" to the agency, with minimal or no progress on five of the seven main security gaps in the initial audit.

Stockpile of 'precursor' chemicals flagged

This report — completed in April and recently released publicly — also flagged a new area of concern, which is a huge stockpile of precursor chemicals that can be used to manufacture illegal street drugs. As of December 2013, 1,900 seizures had accumulated in storage that pose health and safety risks and "may be vulnerable to theft," according to the report.

Tell us what you think!

Help shape the future of CBC article pages by taking a quick survey.

Other findings in the followup audit:

  • Storage policies were strengthened on paper since the last audit, but of the 39 locations visited for a followup audit, there were compliance issues, including nine that stored drugs on open shelves and five that stored firearms openly without being locked or the bolt removed. Another 19 facilities did not have a freezer for perishables.
  • A review of five criminal investigations divisions found the control deficiencies identified in 2009 had achieved "minimal progress" in management plans. "This could impact court cases if chain of custody or continuity of evidence were questioned," it warned.
  • Internal access control is often unlimited, including operations with several hundred employees.
  • Record keeping is lax, including out-of date superintendent review lists and backlogs in recording.
  • 43 per cent (27 out of 63) of the storage facilities checked for physical security were below standard, an improvement from the 58 per cent found to be substandard in the 2009 audit.
  • Improper or untimely recording was done of seizures at postal stations, including drugs, weapons and other contraband.

The new audit makes a series of sweeping recommendations, from strengthening oversight and getting rid of the precursor chemicals, to maximizing security with updated procedures, inventory controls, equipment and monitoring.

Canada Border Services Agency spokeswoman Esme Bailey told CBC News that in response to this followup audit, the agency is taking steps to address security gaps, including a management plan with a review and revision of policies and enhanced oversight mechanisms.

"Operational staff have received further training and briefings on the policies they are required to adhere to," she said.

Disposal of pre-cursor chemicals 'underway'

Bailey said that the agency's Criminal Investigations Program has had a regime in place for years for seized goods that constitute potential evidence.

"As a result of the audit, the storage of evidence and seized goods regime was strengthened further by requiring additional managerial oversight and quarterly reporting," she said.

Bailey also noted that while storage rooms have restricted access and no public access, additional measures have been identified for high-risk items like guns and drugs. As for the stockpile of precursor chemicals, she said disposal is "underway" and is scheduled to be complete by the end of the fiscal year.

The border agency processes goods for import, collects duties and taxes and enforces Canadian laws and regulations. Goods that don't comply with laws can be seized or detained, and the agency is responsible for tracking the inventory and maintaining secure, controlled storage areas that safeguard seized goods.

The border agency's storage facilities include:

  • Bond rooms, which are single-office storage facilities at an agency office.
  • Evidence rooms, if the item is potentially part of a criminal investigation.
  • A Queen's warehouse, which is a large, multi-office collection facility for extended storage and disposal of seized, detained and unclaimed goods that are not part of a police investigation.

Common seized goods include drugs, guns, prohibited weapons and devices, child pornography, alcohol, tobacco, currency, vehicles and also undeclared dutiable goods like jewelry, clothing, footwear and electronic equipment.

From 2012 to 2013, there were 25,204 seizures worth $338 million.