Border Guards Allowing Criminals Into Country: Report

Border guards allowing criminals into country: report

Dean Beeby
The Canadian Press
Updated Mon. May. 4 2009 8:36 AM ET

OTTAWA — Border guards have been breaking rules in allowing hundreds of serious criminals to come to Canada, says an internal review.

The Canada Border Services Agency allowed 535 people convicted of serious crimes to enter the country last year for compassionate or economic reasons, under so-called temporary resident permits.

And a sample of about half those cases found a litany of problems, including failure to get the required permission from the immigration minister's designated officials.

The internal review also found the files frequently lacked key information about exactly why some criminals were given a pass into the country — some for repeat visits.

A draft copy of the report was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The findings confirm and expand upon a critical examination of the border service last year by the federal auditor general, who also found incomplete documentation and sloppy standards.

Under Canada's immigration rules, border guards can issue temporary resident permits to people who would otherwise be barred from Canada, whether for medical reasons or past criminality.

Exceptions are supposed to be made only for humanitarian or compassionate reasons, or for the economic benefit of Canada.

The review cites one example in which a hunter with a criminal past might be allowed into the country because a Canadian outfitter would otherwise lose money.

The permits, which cost $200, are valid for between a day and three years, depending on the decisions of individual officers.

Canada has no exit controls, relying instead on the honour system. Expiry dates on the permits are neither monitored nor enforced unless the ex-offender comes to the attention of authorities for unrelated reasons, such as a fresh crime.

Most permits related to criminality are issued to Americans with drunk-driving offences. But each year hundreds of permits are also handed to persons convicted of “serious” crimes, defined as offences that, if committed in Canada, would be punishable by a maximum prison sentence of at least 10 years.

Agency investigators last fall visited nine border offices — including the airports in Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax — where they examined 628 files for permits issued to people convicted of past criminal activity.

The land borders visited were at Coutts, Alta., Landsdowne, Ont., Fort Frances, Ont., and Lacolle, Que. All locations were chosen because of the high number of such permits issued over the previous two years to people with past criminality.

The list of crimes included child molestation, fraud, automobile homicide, burglary, bank theft, arson, cocaine trafficking, handgun possession and other offences.

Of the 628 permits examined, 282 went to people convicted of serious criminality.

The review team found that officers failed to get permission from senior officials delegated by the immigration minister for 31 of those serious criminals, as required under the rules.

That's 11 per cent of all such cases and, if consistent for the entire year, would mean about 59 people convicted of serious crimes were not properly vetted before they were allowed to enter the country in 2008.

“Given that concurrence is a requirement for all serious criminality cases, there is need for some improvement,” says the report.

The files also lacked key documentation in more than half the cases that would justify these decisions.

Investigators were also concerned that about a third of the permits they examined allowed the person to re-enter Canada, rather than having to re-apply for permission.

The report questioned why such persons should not be required to re-apply abroad each time they intended to visit Canada.

A spokeswoman for the Canada Border Services Agency did not respond to requests for comment.