Day says tighter ‘exit controls’ will help address potential security threats

Posted by admin on May 8th, 2008

Andrew Mayeda. Canwest News Service. Tuesday, May 06, 2008

OTTAWA – The Harper government hopes to implement tighter “exit controls” on deportees, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said Tuesday after the auditor general revealed that Canada’s border-protection agency has lost track of about 41,000 individuals ordered to leave the country. Auditor General Sheila Fraser found that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) does not have an adequate system for tracking such individuals. Moreover, CBSA officers don’t investigate the vast majority of such cases, for fear of devoting resources to find people who might have already left the country.

As a result, there are a growing a number of individuals who might be staying in Canada illegally, a list that could include serious criminals.

Unlike some countries, Canada doesn’t have exit controls to monitor individuals who have been ordered to leave, Day noted in responding to the audit.

“There needs to be a better system to track people who have been told they are inadmissible and many of those people leave of their own accord, but they don’t report it. That’s one of the recommendations we want to pursue,” Day told reporters, without elaborating.

The Commons public accounts committee asked Fraser to follow up on a 2003 audit showing that a growing number of people remained in Canada despite being ordered to leave.

CBSA officers are authorized to arrest and detain permanent residents and foreign nationals who pose a danger to the public, cannot verify their identity, or are likely to skip their immigration proceedings.

The most recent audit found the agency has improved its ability to assess risks and track individuals ready for removal. At the time of the 2003 audit, the agency had no means of counting the number of people ordered to leave the country.

Still, the number of individuals who might be staying illegally continues to grow.

“It’s obviously a problem, because it really goes to the integrity of our immigration laws,” Fraser told reporters. “If people can come into the country and stay here illegally, why would they go what through what is a very long and complicated process to become a resident in Canada?”

However, she said it was “good news” the agency is focusing its resources on “higher-risk individuals.”

The CBSA has since established a database that tracks individuals subject to either removal orders or immigration warrants. An immigration warrant is a warrant for arrest and detention under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Individuals sought on such warrants are typically deported after being caught.

As of last September, there were about 63,000 individuals in the database. The agency knew the whereabouts of roughly 22,000 individuals, but the remaining 41,000 people couldn’t be located.

Fraser’s office doesn’t know for sure how many of those individuals might have been serious criminals, but she said most of the 41,000 are likely failed refugee claimants who don’t represent a serious security risk.

She noted that most countries have illegal immigrants, and she said policy-makers should decide how many is acceptable. “The reality is there will always be people in the country illegally. What that number should be . . . is really up to the department to decide.”

The agency was supposed to roll out a new case-management system that would have integrated 14 legacy systems, including the one used to track detentions and removals.

But the implementation of the new system has been delayed, leaving regional CBSA officers to develop their own methods of prioritizing cases.

New Democrat MP Brian Masse, who represents the border riding of Windsor West, called on the Conservative government to invest more resources in the CBSA and develop a strategy for tracking deportees.

“It suggests that we don’t have a proper system in place right now to identify people and the resources aren’t there,” said Masse. “That’s going to be a concern that’s going to be raised through . . . the United States. I know that they’re going to look at that and see it as a security issue. ”

Liberal public safety critic Ujjal Dosanjh said the government should be spending money on the enforcement of immigration law, rather than misguided programs such as the arming of border guards.

“Before they go and start sending more Canadians to jails with mandatory minimums, they should actually figure out whether or not there are several thousand criminals running around the country who actually don’t belong here.”

The audit also revealed the agency doesn’t track whether individuals whose temporary-residence permits have expired have left the country as required.

Individuals deemed inadmissible to Canada may be allowed to enter temporarily under certain circumstances, such as on humanitarian or compassionate grounds. CBSA officers can issue such permits, but are supposed to document their reasons for the decision.

Fraser’s office randomly examined 64 of the 639 permits issued in 2006 to past serious criminals, meaning individuals convicted of offences that would carry a maximum prison sentence of at least 10 years under Canadian law. Officers clearly documented their reasons for issuing the permits in 43, or 68 per cent, of the files.

Fraser also found the agency does not adequately monitor detention and removal decisions to ensure that individuals are treated fairly and consistently.

For example, different regions were found to have based decisions on the number of beds available at detention facilities, rather than the agency’s mandated criteria.

The audit also revealed the agency is not managing detention costs effectively, with little oversight of such costs. The CBSA spent $36.3 million to detain 12,824 people in the 2006-07 fiscal year, but did not disclose that information to the public.

Ottawa Citizen

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