What Are the Challenges Facing the Canada Border Services Agency?
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The Agency integrates border-related functions across government departments to enhance efficiency. It partners internationally to advance its dual mandate of economic prosperity and public safety.
Liaison officers in 47 locations around the world help to facilitate Customs-to-Customs and business-to-business cooperation agendas through focused agreements with foreign border management agencies. These activities help the CBSA to assess risks and focus resources accordingly.
In an age of terrorism and security concerns, the CBSA needs to balance its security concerns with the need to facilitate travel. It uses detection tools, automated risk analysis and the judgment of front-line officers to ensure that travellers are not posing a threat to Canada’s safety and security.
The Agency collects intelligence information, analyses indicators and conducts targeted checks at ports of entry and airports to assess the risks of travellers entering into Canada. A key tool is Scenario Based Targeting (SBT), which matches API/PNR data from air carriers against pre-determined risk scenarios. Travellers who match one or more of these scenarios are subject to a more in-depth secondary examination by CBSA officers.
The CBSA also has a number of other key tools at its disposal to help it meet its security goals. For example, the Agency conducts passive scent detection dog searches of luggage for suspicious odours. Unlike active dogs, which bark or scratch at the source of an odour, passive detector dogs simply sit beside the bag and alert officers to any unusual odours.
Passive sniffers can detect a wide range of substances including drugs, alcohol and illegal weapons. In some cases, if a traveller is suspected of being in possession of an illegal weapon or drug, they may be asked to undergo a more in-depth secondary examination by a CBSA officer.
In addition to its core border enforcement duties, the CBSA also plays a critical role in protecting Canada’s food, plant and animal health by overseeing import inspection at all port of entry locations. The Agency also works in partnership with provincial, territorial and local law enforcement agencies to fight organized crime and assist in the investigation of immigration and criminal offences.
The Government of Canada established the CBSA in 2003, integrating its various border-related functions into a single organization. This consolidation included merging immigration enforcement duties from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) with customs and duty collection functions of the then-Canada Customs and Revenue Agency. In addition, the agency absorbed some of the food inspection duties of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is responsible for the safe, secure and effective management of Canada’s borders. It is tasked with assessing risk to detect and deter threats, while facilitating the free flow of admissible travellers and commercial goods into, through and out of Canada. The CBSA also enforces immigration laws and manages non-compliance with these laws.
The CBSA operates a network of more than 1,200 service locations, including international airports and land crossings. It works closely with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to enforce immigration law and deport inadmissible people from the country. It also works with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to inspect food and veterinary certificates at ports of entry, along with its inland enforcement branch, which tracks down smugglers and assists local police.
In a post-pandemic world, the CBSA must capitalize on improvements made during the COVID-19 crisis and prepare for emerging risks. To do so, it is working to accelerate the adoption of technologies like facial recognition and biometric verification. The intention behind these technologies is to reduce paperwork and enable faster processing of individuals at the border.
However, the agency is struggling to address privacy concerns about its use of these technologies. It is accused of a lack of transparency, with critics saying that the facial recognition software used at the border disproportionately impacts people with darker skin.
Another area of concern is the continued rise in e-commerce traffic. To address this, the CBSA is pursuing opportunities for preclearance operations at some of its ports of entry. It is also advancing plans to equip its marine container examination facilities with enhanced technology.
Finally, the CBSA Border Services is trying to address unfair trade practices by administering the Special Import Measures Act. It is a complex issue that will require greater cooperation with international partners to successfully address.
In addition, the agency faces an increasing number of cyber attacks and attempts to access its systems. To combat these challenges, the CBSA is focusing on its enterprise data and analytics capabilities. It is also re-examining its internal management governance and making changes to ensure it’s aligned with the government’s commitment to openness and accountability.
The Canada Border Services Agency’s core responsibilities include assessing risk to identify threats, managing the free flow of admissible travellers and goods into, through and out of Canada, and upholding our country’s humanitarian obligations Border Services. In order to achieve its objectives, the agency requires a competent workforce. Its frontline staff is called Border Services Officers (BSO).
BSOs are a vital part of the CBSA team and uphold its mission at more than 1,100 points of service across the country, including highway crossings, airports, marine terminals, rail ports and postal facilities. They may work in adverse weather conditions and at high volume points of service. In addition to examining passengers, cargo and luggage to ensure compliance with customs and immigration legislation, they have a range of policing powers. They can intercept and detain, investigate and report on inadmissible persons and property, as well as assist police with criminal prosecutions and search warrants.
Despite being an essential component of the CBSA’s team, their work can be challenging and emotionally demanding. They are also constantly faced with changing operating environments, technology and
security risks that require their immediate attention.In response to these evolving challenges, policymakers must make policy changes. Writing these policies into law removes the flexibility needed to
change the way business is done, and could leave gaps in border enforcement that could allow dangerous goods or individuals to enter our country.
One of the biggest challenges for the CBSA is the rising e-commerce business. In order to increase efficiency, it is important to find ways to improve the speed at which these shipments are processed.
This will be accomplished by implementing automated processing solutions at ports of entry and by optimizing the agency’s information technology ecosystem.
Another challenge is to continue pursuing a strategic policy agenda that moves the agency towards immigration facilitation and balanced enforcement. This includes working on the Dynamic Risking project, which will generate a risk-based compliance indicator for travellers entering Canada. It will strengthen the quality and consistency of selective referrals for secondary examination, decrease non-resultant referrals and increase operational flexibility to reallocate resources.
The CBSA operates in a constantly evolving operating environment and must be proactive, agile,
innovative and responsive to meet its operational challenges. This is a challenge that the Agency
continues to tackle through its modernization agenda while also being vigilant about the changing risks facing the country.
To continue building capacity and effectiveness in the face of an evolving risk environment, the CBSA
will prioritize ongoing efforts to increase asylum system capacity and horizontal governance, along with
addressing key areas of work including intake, processing, expedited decision-making, and backlogs.
It will also continue to support the RCMP and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) on
operational coordination for the in-Canada refugee determination process. It will also sustain its
commitments under the National Immigration Detention Framework to ensure that detention is only
used as a last resort, and to advance its efforts to protect the health of detainees through improved
screening processes and careful consideration of alternatives to detention.
In the area of inland enforcement, the CBSA will continue to focus investigative resources on high-risk
cases of border-related fraud with a focus on human trafficking and fraudulent immigration consultants.
The agency will also strengthen its ability to investigate and interdict customs trade-related offences
such as smuggling of drugs, weapons, money laundering and proceeds from crimes, to protect the safety
of Canadians and the integrity of the CBSA’s operations and the broader economy.
The CBSA will also continue to improve its ability to detect and intercept smuggled goods that are
produced by forced labour through increased intelligence, enforcement and collaboration with domestic
and international partners. It will also work with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and its US
counterparts to support a strong international enforcement network that combats the illegal movement
of goods into Canada through border crossings.
To further enhance the integrity of the traveller experience, the CBSA will advance its digital and right-
touch infrastructure initiatives at ports of entry to support a smoother, faster, safer journey. This will include the introduction of automated, right-touch technology that will allow travellers to self-serve in certain circumstances. It will also help reduce the amount of time they need to spend in line, and provide
a more personalized, efficient service.