Federal government looking to keep criminals, spies out of trusted traveller programs

Smuggling drugs, hate propaganda or people across the border could get you a lifetime ban from a trusted traveller program like Nexus under planned new rules.

Lifetime ban for trafficking of illegal goods, terrorism, smuggling or being convicted of a serious crime

A TSA officer checks a passenger's ticket, boarding pass and passport at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. The Canada Border Services Agency is considering proposals that spell out what will bar people from becoming a trusted traveller, or have the status stripped away. (Mark Lennihan/The Associated Press)

Smuggling drugs, hate propaganda or people across the border could get you a lifetime ban from a trusted traveller program like Nexus under planned new rules.

The Canada Border Services Agency has launched a month-long consultation on proposals that clearly spell out what will bar people from joining a program — or get them kicked out.

Trusted traveller programs are intended to speed the flow of low-risk, known citizens across borders by steering them into express queues, giving security officers more time to focus limited resources on those who may pose a higher risk.

Nexus, with more than 1.3 million members, is jointly administered by the Canadian and U.S. border agencies.

The Canpass Air program allows permanent residents and citizens of Canada and the United States to enter Canada through major airports.

Currently, someone must be "of good character" to become a trusted traveller.

Under the amendments, that provision would be replaced with a detailed list of eight criteria — from a drug smuggling conviction to espionage allegations — that could prevent membership.

The government says the changes would increase transparency and "provide a stronger legal basis" to reject an applicant or cancel a membership.

Lifetime ban or long wait for access 

Currently, a criminal conviction may make a person ineligible, unless they have received a pardon or record suspension. That would continue to be the case.

But under the changes, someone could face a lifetime ban for:

  • A serious offence or any criminal record of multiple convictions;
  • Terrorism, kidnapping, or smuggling people, drugs, obscene material, hate propaganda or child pornography;
  • Trafficking in alcohol, tobacco, currency or weapons.

In addition, someone convicted of a lesser offence would have to wait 10 years, following the end of their sentence, to apply.

CBSA seeking public feedback

Many of the proposed regulatory amendments are already used as guidance in the determination of "good character" when assessing program eligibility, said Esme Bailey, a border agency spokeswoman.

In its latest performance report, the border agency said 99.96 per cent of the trusted traveller members it examined were found to be in compliance with border legislation, regulations and program criteria.

Still, a pending criminal charge would lead to a suspension under the new proposals. In addition, someone who no longer met the eligibility criteria could have their membership cancelled.

The border agency is accepting feedback on the planned changes through Aug. 19.