Border cops launch project to catch foreign criminals in northern Ontario
The Canadian Press
December 13, 2008
OTTAWA Canada's border cops began a sweep of northern Ontario earlier this year to catch some of the 1,973 criminals who've apparently gone underground to avoid being kicked out of the country.
Newly disclosed documents show the pilot project was launched last April as the Canada Border Services Agency came under pressure from a cabinet minister to root out more unwanted visitors and send them packing.
The agency already removes about 12,000 people from Canada a year, the vast majority of whom are failed refugee claimants, at an annual cost of about $36.3 million. About 1,700 are criminals or people considered a security threat.
But another 40,000 people subject to removal warrants have simply disappeared – including 1,973 who are criminals or threats to security, says an internal agency report from March.
Early this year, Stockwell Day, then public safety minister, demanded the agency beef up the removals system after headlines about the case of Edmund Ezemo, who was charged with defrauding several companies in Toronto.
Ezemo had been deported to Nigeria from Canada eight times in the last 15 years, after being convicted of numerous fraud-related offences in Ontario and Quebec. He used top-quality bogus passports to slip back into the country each time.
Partly to placate the minister, who also cited other problems with the system, the agency decided to use northern Ontario as a testing ground for a more aggressive strategy to locate the disappeared.
Two of the region's 15 enforcement officers were pulled from routine removal duties and dedicated to finding some of the 46 high-priority criminals believed to have gone underground in the area.
The three-month experiment was intended to develop investigative techniques that could be applied to the whole country.
Documents on the project and related material on removals were obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
It's not clear why northern Ontario was chosen as a test region, and a spokeswoman for the Canada Border Services Agency declined to provide details.
“We are currently analyzing the results obtained from this pilot project,” Tracie LeBlanc said in an email response to questions.
Agency documents acknowledge that 90 per cent of resources for removing people go to cases in which the whereabouts are known. Just 10 per cent go to investigating criminals who are subject to a removal warrant but have disappeared.
The cases of the 1,973 missing criminals are reviewed once a year by each region, but “leads are exhausted,” says a March summary document. “Don't know where person is – may have left Canada.”
The agency this year also launched a national project, with the RCMP and Citizenship and Immigration, to use biometrics – mainly digitized fingerprints – to help prevent deportees from sneaking back into the country.
Officials have currently located and identified 264 people in Canada who had previously been deported and must be removed again. Of these, 29 people have been deported more than once, 13 of them to the United States.
The biometrics project, which was given $26 million over two years, will also ensure those presenting visas to enter Canada are the same persons who were issued the documents at Canada's offices aboard, to prevent visitor fraud.
Officials are also pressing for a legislative change that would confer 'investigative body' status on the agency, allowing a freer flow of information with law enforcement agencies.
“As the CBSA is in the very early stages of exploring the issue, it would be premature to discuss or to provide additional details,” LeBlanc said.
The agency came under fire in May by the auditor general for the rising numbers of people who go missing.
“There is a growing number of individuals whose whereabouts is unknown and who might remain in Canada illegally, thereby jeopardizing the integrity of the program,” Sheila Fraser said in a report to Parliament.