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Serious security problems at Canada's border crossings

Editors Note: As Canada Customs officers guard the border between the USA and Canada this is a must read for law enforcement officers on both sides of the border. Law enforcement readers south of the border might be surprised to learn our Customs Officers are NOT armed-they need to be! Also Canada has Customs Officers at official border crossings but NO Border Patrol to guard the border between crossings. Read this report to learn more about the state of our border security. This is a summary of a 32-page report.

There is a huge border security crisis in Canada. While 1,600 vehicles blew by ports last year and failed to report to Customs, more than 3,000 entered Canada illegally via just 2 of more than 200 unguarded roads.

Evidence & Recommendations From Front-line Customs Officers and the Customs Excise Union - Submission to the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defense, April 7th 2005.

2.1 Our information comes from the front-lines, from those who are doing the real and honest work.

2.13 This is not about more members or more dues. It's about pointing to real problems on the border. It's about working to bring about changes and fixes to those problems before lives are lost and economies suffer.

Greater safety and health risks for our members

3.1 Two life-altering events for the world of Customs in Canada drive this submission: first, giving Criminal Code powers of arrest to Customs Officers in 2000 and, second, events of 9/11 in 2001. Both point to Canadians' desires and demands for better border security.

Officer Powers

3.2 First, that Government agreed to mandate Customs to enforce the Criminal Code at the border in May 1998 when it gave Royal Assent to then Bill C-18, thus acknowledging that an enforcement gap existed along the border and that Customs needed to place a greater emphasis on public security than it previously had.

Events of 9/11

3.3 Second, terrorist actions on 9/11 placed tremendous pressures on the Government to increase security at the border, which in December 2003 ultimately led to the extraction of Customs from National Revenue and its relocation in the newly minted Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Department.

3.4 The ever growing level of violent crime along with the combined product of these two critical events is quite simply a much more dangerous world for Customs Officers working to protect Canada's borders.

4.1 On an annual basis, Customs Officers across Canada are now required to detain and arrest thousands of child abductors, drunk drivers, persons driving stolen vehicles, and almost everyone for whom an arrest warrant has been issued - we say almost because the list does not include persons considered armed and dangerous or extremely dangerous. Customs Officers are instructed in an Ottawa Policy to not deal with armed and dangerous criminals, to let those criminals enter Canada then call police who, it is hoped, may hopefully intercept the criminals later on, on our roadways or highways - meaning in our neighbourhoods.

4.3 To ensure that some forceful compliance with the Criminal Code is possible and that some level of personal protection measures are available when required, Ottawa gave our members, as well as student Customs Officers, protective vests, batons and pepper spray; and because our members aren't provided sidearms, Ottawa says it also entered into port-by-port agreements with municipal and provincial police forces for backup and assistance.

4.8 As for our members who work on the front line, their message is unambiguous, and it must be heard loud and clear: police response times are unacceptably slow across Canada, where they exist at all.

5.14 The following are databases and systems used by Customs Officers to access those databases:

FOSS (Field Operated Support System) is the Immigration database
CPIC (Canadian Police Information Centre) is the police
PIRS (Police Information Retrieval System) is an RCMP database
ICES (Integrated Customs Enforcement System) is the Customs database
IPIL (Integrated Primary Inspection Line) is used by Customs Officers at some airports, and some land border crossings to remotely access the FOSS and ICES databases.
PALS (Primary Automated Lookout System) is used by Customs Officers at the major border crossing, to remotely access the FOSS and ICES databases. Problems with Databases

5.15 Serious and critical problems related to the use of these tools were flagged to Ottawa three years ago and they remain outstanding today.

5.19 The same sources tell us there are hundreds of other suspects and known terrorists who are not listed as armed and dangerous in ICES.

Unguarded Roads (Border Patrol)

8.1 Although Customs once had a national Border Patrol to combat the illegal entry of people and goods between border points-of-entry, this responsibility was transferred to the RCMP during the 1930's.

8.2 Canada does not currently have any type of Border Patrol which, simply put, means that Canada is not actively or proactively guarding its borders between points-of-entry.

8.3 According to our records, there are approximately 225 unguarded roads that can be used between Canada and U.S., as follows:
107 - Quebec
50 - New Brunswick
50 - British Columbia
25 - Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta

8.5 Having so many unguarded roads with no physical law enforcement presence to guard them and act as a deterrent against illegal activities completely and utterly defeats any and all enforcement measures undertaken by this Government at recognized ports of entry. It would not be entirely inaccurate to conclude that millions upon millions of dollars are being wasted if no one in Canada is on watch at unguarded roads.

Port Runners

8.6 As you are now aware, in 2004, CBSA records estimate that 1,600 vehicles entered Canada via Customs ports and failed to report to Customs; they blew by the ports, to use the Deputy Prime Minister's term.

8.9 A port runner, by the way, is only charged $200 if caught and brought back to Customs, and some would say this is nothing more than the cost of doing business for anyone wanting to disregard laws enforced at the border.

8.11 People who blow by Customs ports ultimately enter local communities and local Police have to deal with these individuals and whatever crime they may bring. We're convinced local taxpayers dislike footing Police bills to deal with port runners and problem cases that should have been dealt with at the border.

Unguarded Marine Locations

8.14 Not only are there unguarded roads across Canada, there are also hundreds of unguarded marine locations that are supposed to be fully serviced and monitored by Customs.

Work Alone Sites For Customs Officers

9.1 There are 139 sites in Canada deemed by Customs management to be "work alone" sites.

9.2 It is absolutely impossible to mention this and refrain from making statements about the inherent dangers to Customs Officers who work alone.

9.3 The last line from section 15 A of the new 2005 job description for the CBSA Customs Border Officer reads: "In some locations, there may be a requirement to work alone, where police back up may not be available in a timely manner." (Emphasis added.)

9.4 The same job description then goes on to state that Customs Officers should be prepared to be injured from "confrontation from situations such as assaults by suspect persons, persons being arrested, and persons under arrest, or injury arising from the attempt to apprehend or subdue an individual ..."


13.1 Common sense should dictate that there is a constant risk associated with the fact that Customs services are known to be in constant possession of large sums of cash, weapons and narcotics. When police arrive to take possession of any seized drugs, they are armed. When a private security company arrives to pick up the daily cash deposits, they too are armed. How can the health and safety of police or private security officers be more important than the lives of Customs Officers? Isn't it strange that the sworn peace officers who are the first response charge with interdiction of contraband and the arrest of criminal smuggler(s) are completely unarmed despite the fact that they face all the risks associated with the apprehension of the accused?

Alberta Seizures Example

13.1.2 Customs Officers in Coutts, Alberta, seize many very large shipments of cocaine. Just lately, one shipment weighed 96 Kg and was valued at over $17 M. Officers there also routinely seize other shipments of drugs, large quantities of currency and prohibited weapons.

British Columbia Example

13.1.3 A Customs Officer at the Douglas Port found almost $100,000 in currency in an air bag compartment. It was concealed but was found together with a high reading of cocaine in the pick-up truck. The currency was drug money. The Officers wanted to continue further inspection on the vehicle but since the Douglas Port does not have an inspection bay, they needed to move the truck to the inspection bay at the Pacific Highway Port, which is 10 minutes away. The Officer in charge had suspicions that there was more currency or drugs in the vehicle but, since he is not armed, requested the Superintendent arrange a police escort. The request was denied on the grounds that an escort was not part of any agreement with Police. Fortunately, an RCMP Officer arrived at the port for different business and agreed to provide the escort.

Armed and Dangerous

16.4 We believe it is absolutely ludicrous and unacceptable for a Customs Policy to exist instructing Customs Officers to withdraw from dangerous situations and let armed and dangerous felons into Canada because the Officers are ill-equipped, meaning not carrying sidearms, and unable to exercise full options on what RCMP Commissioner Zaccardelli calls the "Use of Force Continuum". Customs Officers are outmatched when they face armed and dangerous felons.

16.6 Further, Customs is a major participant in the field of law enforcement, jointly engaged with other law enforcement agencies and professionals. The fact that our members participate in joint enforcement operations with other law enforcement professionals who carry sidearms, while our members do not, does add an element of risk to those officers who do carry sidearms because they must now work to protect themselves and our members. Law enforcement slang has them being referred to as "dead weight".

16.12 Because Government has adopted a political position that Customs Officers should not carry sidearms, the Analysis was ordered amended by Customs management before it was released and made public. The Government-doctored-version of the Analysis recommended: "Customs Services should not issue firearms to Customs Superintendents and Inspectors."

16.13 An armed presence is required at the border. It should be illegal and is undeniably wrong for the Government to justify its position and inaction on arming against the backdrop of what is its self-serving version of the Customs Officer Job Hazard Analysis.


CEUDA invites the Committee to undertake the following:

1. Recommend that Customs Officers be provided sidearms.
2. Failing a recommendation to provide sidearms to Customs Officers, partner with CEUDA to commission a new, fully independent, Risk Assessment that would assess the question of sidearms in a transparent manner, free-from-political interference.


17.1 We are deeply upset about the apparent lack of concern for the health and safety of Customs Officers and the Canadian public in general. How long will the Government continue to give Customs bureaucrats in Ottawa millions of dollars to improve border security that our members will see mismanaged and misspent and conclude, again, that border security hasn't improved but actually declined? It is clear that our entire border has become a veritable sieve, and it is time for the Government to take control and fix the many problems. We are proud Canadians and our members are proud to serve the public in their capacity as Customs Officers, but they are becoming increasingly fearful of the current state of Officer and public safety policies that are currently in effect. In the end, all they want is to be able to safely and effectively perform their duties in an increasingly dangerous environment.

17.2 As Customs Officers, they are not the gun-crazy; "wanna-be" cops that Customs senior managers try to make them out to be. In actuality, they are rational, responsible and mature peace officers with a desire to protect our country and perform their duties as safely and efficiently as possible. The clock cannot be turned back. Canada must adapt to the new responsibilities facing us and utilize the proper training and tools in order to make sure that every Customs Officer is safe and that Canadian communities are not subject to the ill effects of illegal goods and persons that should have been stopped at the border. In the end, that's what it's all about.

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