Preventing Illegal Entry into Canada

Opening Statement to the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence

Preventing Illegal Entry into Canada

(Chapter 5—2013 Fall Report of the Auditor General of Canada)

24 February 2014

Michael Ferguson, CPA, CA
FCA (New Brunswick)
Auditor General of Canada

Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity today to appear before the Committee to discuss our 2013 Fall Report, Chapter 5—Preventing Illegal Entry into Canada. With me today are Nicholas Swales, Principal, and Joanne Butler, Director, who were responsible for this audit.

The Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP share responsibility for preventing people from entering Canada illegally. The Agency manages our ports of entry, where people are supposed to cross into Canada. But when they don’t use those ports of entry, it is up to the RCMP to know about it and apprehend them.

Managing who crosses Canada’s vast border is certainly a challenge— about 270,000 people cross into Canada every day. But it’s an essential task that helps protect the safety and security of Canadians and the integrity of our immigration program. It is, therefore, very important that border controls work as they are supposed to. We raised concerns in our audit about how well these controls are working.

Mr. Chair, let me talk first about controls at the ports of entry and highlight three main challenges:

We found that the Canada Border Services Agency often does not get all the advance information it needs to identify and target high-risk travellers en route to Canada by air. In our sample, we found that the Agency was missing some data for about 95 percent of air passengers. This is concerning because without good air passenger data, targeting controls cannot operate as effectively as intended.

Nevertheless, we found that the Agency has made significant progress in some of its efforts to detect high-risk travellers. The new National Targeting Program has good practices, but some targets are still missed. Our review showed that 8 percent of targets were not examined as required—these are people whom the Agency had identified as high risk from the advance information it did have. These findings are important because targets are intended to intercept individuals who may pose a threat to the security and safety of Canadians.

The Agency has also made little progress since 2007 in monitoring the results of lookouts. Lookouts are notices designed to intercept known high-risk individuals connected to organized crime, terrorism, or irregular migration, and who may attempt to enter Canada. We found that 15 percent of lookouts were missed, which means people who should have been further examined were not examined before they entered Canada. We found that the Agency still does not monitor information about all missed lookouts, nor does it record information on examination results for all people who have been intercepted as a result of lookouts.

Border Services Officers rely on the Agency’s information systems to tell them which travellers must be sent to secondary inspection. However, these systems go down from time to time. Although the Agency reviews the impact of system outages, it could not tell us what availability level it needs before operations are affected.

Mr. Chair, between the ports of entry, we found that the RCMP does not have information on its success in intercepting people trying to enter the country illegally. This finding is important because without systematic performance information, the RCMP does not know whether resources are placed where they can be most effective.

We reviewed data in the information systems of both the RCMP and the Agency and found that the RCMP’s Integrated Border Enforcement Teams intercepted just over half of known illegal entries. The Marine Security Enforcement Teams intercepted known illegal entries more often. However, without consistent measurement, it is not possible to determine what rate of interception is acceptable, or whether the RCMP’s ability to prevent illegal entry is improving or declining. The RCMP needs a framework to measure and monitor how well its border enforcement activities are doing.

The Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP have agreed with our recommendations, and they made several commitments in their responses. Both organizations have also tabled action plans with the Standing Committee on Public Accounts in order to address our recommendations.

The Committee may also be interested to know that in 2011 we published a chapter on issuing visas and in 2008 a chapter on the detention and removal of individuals. However, we have not audited actions taken in these two areas since then.

Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be happy to answer any questions the Committee may have. Thank you.