CBSA officers caught giving preferential treatment, associating with criminals, documents reveal

Canadian border agents have been reprimanded for hundreds of acts of misconduct over the past two years – including preferential treatment and criminal association – according to documents obtained by CBC News.

Details of the cases – all of which were found to have merit – have been released under the Freedom of Information Act and cover the period from January 1, 2020 to January 1, 2022.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) reported that in the last fiscal year, it concluded 92 founded investigations. Of these, 12 saw border officials reprimanded verbally, 42 resulted in written reprimands and 38 resulted in suspensions.

This figure is significantly lower than 2020 – the first year to see a reduction in travel due to the pandemic. In 2020, the CBSA reported 215 substantiated cases resulting in nine dismissals, 82 suspensions, 52 written reprimands and 27 verbal reprimands. (The numbers don’t say what happened in the remaining cases.)

A CBSA spokesperson said the agency considers a complaint “founded” if “aspects” of it are found to be “valid”.

Although the details of these cases – including names and locations – are redacted in the documents published on CBC News, they describe some troubling behavior at land and air crossings.

In one case, an officer was found to have failed to properly process passenger and vehicle number plates – a key part of the job – for three years.

In another instance, an officer accessed the CBSA’s computer system to remove flags from someone’s file. Flags are indicators related to a person’s criminal or travel history that are intended to alert CBSA officers that a particular traveler warrants further investigation.

A well-founded investigative report only said the officer in question posed “a security risk” and could “harm the reputation of the agency.”

Links to the Hells Angels

The documents also describe several well-founded cases of criminal association, including one involving an officer who “provided [a] fake name when arrested by police while having dinner with [a] cocaine smuggler” and another involving an officer with ties to the Hells Angels.

A handful of cases involved officers engaging in sexual harassment – ​​sexually assaulting a co-worker while off duty in one case, spraying insect repellent on a co-worker’s crotch and sending messages or photographs sexually explicit in others.

Other cases investigated involved interpersonal grievances, such as employees spreading rumors about each other.

The president of the Customs and Immigration Union said he believes the CBSA’s approach to discipline sometimes goes too far. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Allegations are generally reviewed by CBSA management as part of the disciplinary process. If the allegations are serious enough, a lead investigator from the agency’s Security and Professional Standards Directorate initiates a formal investigation.

“The CBSA has a responsibility to address misconduct in the workplace and takes this obligation seriously. CBSA management is addressing allegations of misconduct,” CBSA spokesperson Patrick Mahaffy said.

“Discipline is handled on a case-by-case basis, and discipline is rendered based on the seriousness of the allegations and takes into account mitigating and aggravating factors.”

Union chief says environment at CBSA is ‘cold, clinical’

But Mark Weber, president of the Customs and Immigration Union, said he believed the CBSA was going too far in its approach to discipline.

“The serious things are absolutely being investigated, and many things that shouldn’t be officially investigated are also being investigated,” he said. “Discipline is not meant to be punitive. It is meant to be corrective.”

Although Weber acknowledged that some of the founded cases were serious, he called the agency’s approach to discipline “extreme.”

“It’s all very cold, clinical,” he said.

“Over the years, what we’ve noticed is that the agency has become very formal. Things that used to be dealt with between a manager and an employee with a conversation… ‘You could have done that differently and it would have been better’…everything at CBSA has been centralized and has become an official email, an official investigation that often takes place weeks or months after the event.”

The CBSA remains the only public safety agency in Canada without an independent public complaints oversight body.

While the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency oversees the CBSA’s national security activities, members of the public should bring complaints about CBSA services directly to the agency, which in-house processing.

Last month, the federal government announced plans to reintroduce legislation allowing travelers and immigration detainees to file complaints with an independent body if they believe they have been mistreated by the Canada border agency.

“Ultimately, this legislation aims to strengthen our law enforcement agencies by increasing accountability, transparency…and it will lead to a safer country for all,” Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said. , whose portfolio includes the CBSA.

A new complaints commission in preparation

Bill C-20 (previous versions died on the order paper) would replace the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission the oversight body that receives complaints from the public about the RCMP — with a Public Complaints and Review Commission that would deal with complaints about the RCMP and CBSA.

Weber said he fears C-20 could put even more pressure on a strained employer-employee relationship at the CBSA.

“We have an employer who is already very strict in terms of discipline,” he said. “Our members are regularly placed on unpaid leave, sometimes for a year or more, pending the outcome of investigations.”

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino introduced a bill last month allowing people to complain to an independent body if they believe they have been mistreated by the CBSA. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

If the bill passes, the new Commission for Public Complaints and Review could conduct reviews of all CBSA activities that do not involve national security matters, either on its own initiative or at the request of the CBSA. of the minister.

Weber said he would like to see the new body address mismanagement as well.

He said if a complaint “indicates a systemic problem”, the commission should address that problem “rather than everything being directed at the one person the traveler is interacting with”.

He said CBSA officers are often stuck “working compulsory overtime” and sometimes deal with “hundreds of people” a day.

“Depending on what happens in those circumstances, that could be the reason for the complaints,” he said.

Bill C-20 is still awaiting second reading in the House of Commons.

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