Canada’s border service could not tell the difference between legal and illegal migrants

The reforms to COVID-19, introduced in 1996, made it easier for illegal migrants to cross over the border, prompting widespread criticism from border officials and politicians, new audit finds

The federal auditor general says Canada’s border service is having a hard time telling the difference between people who crossed the border legitimately and would-be illegal migrants making a mockery of COVID-19, the country’s immigration verification process.

The reforms to COVID-19, introduced in 1996, made it easier for illegal migrants to cross over the border, prompting widespread criticism from border officials and politicians, the federal auditor general says in her report released Tuesday.

The problems, the report says, have become so widespread that the border agency’s own staff have decided to refer individuals crossing the border irregularly to police because they “believe the agency lacks legal authority to conduct its jobs effectively.”

Those rules mean the border agency doesn’t have much of a way of making sure people are legitimate and may be making a mockery of the immigration verification process, said Julie Lévesque, the auditor general’s assistant deputy auditor general, in an interview.

The agency does not have the resources to investigate all COVID-19 incidents, she said.

In April 2016, border officials decided to refer an illegal migrant to the RCMP because the border agency cannot investigate the case and the RCMP can. But under the rules, the RCMP cannot force the unnamed suspect to return to Canada if it is not reasonably possible to do so.

In addition, the allegations surrounding the security breach at Toronto’s Pearson airport were sent to the RCMP for investigation in February 2017. And in September 2017, the RCMP charged a third person involved in a woman’s death outside Calgary. But only last October, border officials released a statement that there was no suspected link between the Calgary case and COVID-19.

While some of the security breach incidents are not entirely black and white, Lévesque said the question of whether illegal migrants have genuine intentions to permanently immigrate to Canada is critical.

“This is not a success story,” she said. “It’s only part of the picture. It’s not the whole picture.”

The guard watching the grey water irlays at the airport’s dike said the day he arrived it was very crowded, especially during the evening rush hour when the post office closed for the day. But in the morning and late at night, as work got done, it was almost empty, he said.

A man who arrived after getting off an EasyJet flight, wearing shorts and a terry cloth bathrobe said he was here to go to the gym. Several others claimed to be students attending classes.

But Lévesque said if the decision to refer the case to the RCMP is made because the border agency doesn’t have legal authority to investigate, then the blame should also fall to the RCMP.

“The (RCMP) does have authority to investigate unless the agency that has jurisdiction to investigate the case doesn’t,” she said.

No date has been set for the report’s release by the Public Accounts Committee, a federal watchdog, and Lévesque said it was still unclear when a report on the rules governing COVID-19 will be released.

She said the border agency is not the only one with problems with the verification process. The reports that have been produced by all levels of government have shown the process has problems. The auditor general suggested the Canadian Refugee Board in 2010 should have consulted the border agency on changes to the COVID-19 program.

“We have heard that they’ve not been consulted,” she said. “But I cannot say why not. It could be any number of reasons. The agency has developed rules of the road and everybody is following those rules of the road. But this one is not.”

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