Increase in CBSA Misconduct Investigations Calls for CBSA Independent Oversight

More Investigations Occurring Despite Decrease in Travel to Canada

Reports are showing that despite a decreased number of people entering Canada due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of misconduct investigations against border officers have increased significantly in the past year. These reports are just the latest in a long-standing issue at the Canadian Border Services Agency: the misconduct of its officers.

The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) is the sole public safety agency in Canada that does not have independent oversight, which allows the already powerful CBSA to handle its investigations in whichever way they choose, often letting down the vulnerable individuals bringing forward the claims of misconduct. CBSA officers carry weapons such as firearms, have the ability to arrest and detain individuals, and can even begin deportation procedures against individuals they deem inadmissible to the country. The lack of independent oversight creates an environment that leads to corruption and abuses of power that not only hurts the individuals trying to access our country, but the integrity of our border services themselves.

It is not to say that public safety agencies with independent oversight are immune to cases of misconduct, and that these independent agencies themselves do not often play a part in the protection of officers. However, without an independent agency there is not even a semblance of accountability or transparency at the CBSA, as there is no external organization to ensure claims are being handled properly and officers are being held accountable for their actions.

The importance for oversight becomes even more clear when considering the extreme amount of power that the CBSA has in the minds of many who are mistreated. Janet Dench, the executive director for the Canadian Council for Refugees, identified a major concern being that those dealing with CBSA officers often do not have permanent residence or citizenship to Canada, and fear that reporting officers will risk their chances at being permitted to stay in the country. As well, she identified that many incidents may not even be reported and if the CBSA severely mistreats someone and then removes them from the country, they will not have an ability to file a report of misconduct.

Legislation to provide independent oversight to the CBSA has been brought forward in the House of Commons twice in the past two years, and despite bipartisan support it has failed to be implemented. There are no excuses for such an important issue to continue to slip through the cracks. The most recent bill to introduce CBSA oversight through an extension of the independent oversight of the RCMP expired with the end of the most recent parliamentary session, and has yet to be reintroduced. Parliament has the resources, the support, and even the plan to introduce independent oversight to the CBSA, all that is left is to actually do it.

The individual stories reported about the misconduct of CBSA officers are haunting, and they are sadly only the few stories that are shared with the public. As of now we have no real way to know what is being reported, how these reports are being investigated, and how the conclusions of an investigation relate to the consequences an officer faces. Independent oversight of these cases of misconduct would provide structure, certainty, and accountability so that those entering our country know that if they are not being treated fairly and with respect, they have someone to turn to.

While Parliament continues to arbitrarily sit on this issue, the number of misconduct cases at the CBSA continues to rise at the expense of people who are powerless to do anything about it. At the time where we are beginning to reopen as a country and are beginning to welcome people to our country once again, there is no better time for Parliament to implement this legislature than the present.

Photo Credit: Prachatai, https://www.flickr.com/photos/prachatai/36337897212