Opening Statement to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration

Issuing Visas

(Chapter 2—Fall 2011 Report of the Auditor General)

Detention and Removal of Individuals—Canada Border Services Agency

(Chapter 7—May 2008 Report of the Auditor General)

16 February 2012

Wendy Loschiuk
Assistant Auditor General

Good afternoon, Mr. Chair, and thank you for this opportunity to appear before the Committee as you begin discussions on the security of Canada’s immigration system. In Chapter 2 of our most recent report, in the fall of 2011, we looked at the processes followed and the information made available when checking to determine if a person applying for a visa is admissible to Canada. Joining me today is Suzanne Therrien, the Principal who was responsible for the audit. We have also examined the detention and removal of individuals from Canada and reported those findings in Chapter 7 of the May 2008 report. Joining me as well is Gordon Stock, Principal responsible for that audit.

Mr. Chair, when admitting persons into Canada, the health, safety, and security of Canadians remain paramount. This is made clear in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which sets out the rules for determining whether persons are admissible, and provides the authority to detain and remove those who are not.

There may be people in Canada who are in breach of the Act and are therefore here illegally. In such cases, a removal order may be issued. In 2008, we saw that the Canada Border Services Agency had made improvements to focus on removing higher-risk individuals, but resources were limited.

Our 2008 chapter had several key messages that I would like to go over:

  • Although the Canada Border Services Agency had adopted better techniques to track persons who had been ordered removed from the country, a growing number of persons in Canada illegally was jeopardizing the integrity of the immigration system. In addition, the whereabouts of some of these persons was unknown.
  • We also found that more work was needed to ensure that persons who were detained but released on bond, complied with the conditions of their release.
  • There was little information available on the costs of detaining and removing persons, or on whether policies and standards for detention were applied fairly.
  • Finally, the Canada Border Services Agency and Citizenship and Immigration Canada needed to focus on better coordinating their efforts.

Mr. Chair, we recommended that the Department and the Agency implement processes to improve the quality assurance of their joint Temporary Resident Permit program. We also recommended that they ensure that all individuals are treated in a consistent manner, and that data capture and analysis be improved to better monitor detention and removals.

In our 2011 audit on issuing visas, we saw that visa officers overseas have a very challenging job. However, they are well supported—with good training before going overseas and, once there, a network that they can access for advice. Visa officers told us they use this network often.

However, we found that there are some gaps in the process for managing risks and getting assurance that the system is working as intended. Of course, it isn’t realistic to expect the system to be perfect. But we found that it is important to have information on how well the system is working so that gaps can be identified and appropriate action taken. In our opinion, these gaps can be narrowed by improving quality assurance practices and by monitoring performance.

Specifically, we noted the following:

  • First, in order to properly identify persons not admissible to Canada, visa officers need to know what to look for. However, the tools they use to help them do this were not being reviewed regularly to ensure they were up to date. Even though medical professionals are reviewing the health documentation from applicants, it remains difficult to assess danger to public health or public safety, or to assess excessive demand.
  • Second, timely and reliable information is not always available when assessing admissibility. Information on visa applicants mostly comes from the applicants themselves, which is to be expected. It can be difficult to validate this information and, therefore, any help from security partners is valuable. However, there may be little helpful information available from security partners, and a security screening for a permanent resident visa can take more than three years.
  • And thirdly, quality assurance practices—in other words, checks to make sure the system is working—need to be strengthened for the admissibility determination process. We found that there are reviews and good documentation in cases where an applicant is found inadmissible but those cases make up a small percent of the volume of visa requests. Most people coming to Canada may not pose a risk. But in a system that is there to help protect Canadians, in our opinion, it is just as important to review the decisions to grant visas as it is to review the decisions to deny them.

Both the Department and the Agency have been working to make their practices better. Some progress has been made since 2000, when we first noted a lack of quality assurance in the system. The entities have drafted a new Memorandum of Understanding and at the time of the audit, were developing a joint risk management approach.

An area that could still benefit from improvement, nevertheless, is measuring performance by developing performance indicators. Despite attempts to develop a joint framework on performance measurement, there has been little progress. The challenge has been getting good information to measure performance and demonstrate how effective the admissibility determination process has been. Both the Department and the Agency have agreed to focus on performance measurement as part of a current review.

We also noted that the entities have prepared action plans to address our recommendations and are working towards firm timelines.

Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening statement. We would be happy to answer any questions. Thank you.