Canada: border officials illegally conduct airport-style searches at border crossings

Legislation allows border officials to initiate physical pat-downs at Ontario and Quebec border crossings

The Canadian federal auditor general has found the country’s border officials improperly conduct airport-style searches at the Ontario and Quebec crossings.

The new bill would bar travellers from using full body scanners at the country’s physical security border checkpoint outside Toronto, marking a significant tightening of the government’s immigration controls in the wake of last year’s Lac-Mégantic rail disaster.

“The root cause of our finding was that the entry control system, mostly along the Windsor-Quebec border, contained various weaknesses and imperfections,” the auditor general, Michael Ferguson, said in his annual report.

Ferguson pointed to two key weaknesses: the power of border officials to request physical pat-downs and because the government and authorities were not well aware of how often the searches were happening.

“The government of Canada should undertake an assessment of how often consular officers rely on physical pat-downs of travellers,” Ferguson said.

Two major Senate hearings in October discussed a new law, the Canada Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Act, which would eliminate one of Canada’s primary customs entry points for bringing in trucks headed to the country’s westernmost border.

The bill would bar travellers from using full body scanners at the country’s physical security border checkpoint outside Toronto, marking a significant tightening of the government’s immigration controls in the wake of last year’s Lac-Mégantic rail disaster.

Ferguson also criticises the government for allowing a “failure of accountability and transparency on the part of border officials”.

For example, after border officials were reported to the inspector general of the department of public safety for conducting “detailed, invasive, and highly objectionable” searches on passengers in the Canada-US corridor, the Canada Border Services Agency issued information in April 2013 that said “adverse” feedback by visitors and tourists to Canada prompted the introduction of new rules and procedures for airport-style search.

This was allegedly done on just 0.3% of cross-border movements.

“The auditor general has also found that travellers’ complaints about border searches increased significantly between 2006 and 2013,” the report states.

But the report also says the Canadian Border Services Agency is setting up a compliance monitoring and reporting service to better manage complaints.

The new law “has the potential to bring greater security to Canada, but lacks rigorous oversight and accountability to ensure those efforts are effective and effective,” Ferguson said.

Leave a Comment