Canada Border Services Agency

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA; French: Agence des services frontaliers du Canada, ASFC) is a federal law enforcement agency that is responsible for border control (i.e. protection and surveillance), immigration enforcement, and customs services in Canada. The CBSA is accountable to Parliament through the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

Canada Border Services Agency
Agence des services frontaliers du Canada
Badge of the CBSA[1]
Badge of the CBSA[1]
CBSA coat of arms
CBSA coat of arms
Flag of the CBSA[2]
Flag of the CBSA[2]
Common nameBorder Services
AbbreviationCBSA (French: ASFC)
MottoProtectio Servitium Integritas
(Latin for "Protection, Service, Integrity")[1]
Agency overview
FormedDecember 12, 2003
Preceding agencies
Jurisdictional structure
Federal agencyCanada
Operations jurisdictionCanada
Governing bodyPublic Safety Canada
Constituting instruments
General nature
Operational structure
HeadquartersOttawa, Ontario
Elected officers responsible
Agency executives
  • John Ossowski, President
  • Paul Mackinnon, Executive Vice President

The Agency was created on December 12, 2003, by an order-in-council that amalgamated the customs function of the now-defunct Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA); the enforcement function of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC; now IRCC); and the port-of-entry examination function of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). The CBSA's creation was formalized by the Canada Border Services Agency Act,[4] which received Royal Assent on November 3, 2005.

The CBSA oversees approximately 1,200 service locations across Canada, and 39 in other countries. It employs over 14,000 public servants and offers 24-hour service at 117 of its land border crossings and at 13 international airports.[5] It works closely with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to enforce immigration laws by facilitating the removal of inadmissible individuals from the country and assisting local police in the investigation of violations of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

The Agency oversees operations at three major sea ports and three CBSA mail centres (CMC),[6] and operates detention facilities, known as immigration holding centres (IHC), in Laval, Quebec; Toronto, Ontario; and Surrey, BC.[7]

CBSA's Inland Enforcement branch tracks down and removes foreign nationals who are in Canada illegally. Inland Enforcement Officers are plainclothes units and are equipped with the same sidearm pistol (PX4D Storm chambered in 9×19mm Parabellum) as Border Services Officers (BSOs) found at ports of entry.


Prior to 2004, border security in Canada was handled by three legacy agencies that performed individual functions:

The Auditor General identified the issues in having the responsibility of border security be divided, such as the inability for individual agencies to share certain security information, as well as ineffective inter-agency communication.[8] Thus, in 2003, the border enforcement functions taken on by the separate agencies would consolidate into a singular organization, titled the Canada Border Services Agency. Originally, under CCRA, Canada customs was joined with the country's revenue service, though the agency would primarily give its focus to tax collection. With the establishment of Border Services, CCRA's taxation responsibilities would break off into the Canada Revenue Agency, while its customs function would be absorbed entirely by the CBSA.

The Agency has since undergone significant changes to its overall structure, as well as to its range of duties and institutional priorities.

Arming officersEdit

During its initial years, CBSA officers, just as their CCRA predecessors, were not equipped with firearms. This would be the case until 2006, when the Government of Canada would approve of the CBSA Arming Initiative,[9] a 10-year strategy to arm and train Border Services Officers (BSOs).[10]

One of the first significant policy changes to come to the agency was in allowing CBSA officers to arrest and detain individuals at the border for non-customs related violations of Canadian law. These responsibilities would eventually lead to the implementation of use of force policies, after which BSOs across Canada begun to carry collapsible batons, pepper spray, and handcuffs, though it would take several years before they could be equipped with firearms. The 2006 Canadian federal budget introduced CA$101 million to equip BSOs with side arms and to eliminate single-person border crossings.


Though the decision to arm BSOs has been subject to controversy in Canada, various Canadian governments over the years had felt that unarmed officers made the country less intimidating to visitors, compared to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, whose officers have carried side arms for decades. Supporters of arming BSOs said that this would help the CBSA shed its lax reputation and better enforce Canada's authority in a post-9/11 era, such as when dealing with American visitors who frequently carry firearms. Moreover, the arming of BSOs received support from other law enforcement agencies, as well as the union that represents the affected officers.[citation needed]


In August 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that arming BSOs would begin in early 2007 and would continue through 2016, marking the 10-year strategy. The arming of officers at Ports of Entry (POEs) across Canada was conducted systematically, with ports that were considered the busiest and/or most dangerous to be completed first. Some of the first officers to be armed were those working at Ontario's Windsor-Detroit POE, the busiest highway port of entry in Canada. Today, Border Services Officers at all POEs are issued duty firearms. However, they may not be routinely worn, depending on the environment the officer is working in.[citation needed]


Flag of the CBSA, resembling the Canadian Blue Ensign, but with the Canadian flag and CBSA badge.[2]

In addition to using generic identifiers imposed by the Federal Identity Program (FIP), the CBSA is one of several federal departments (primarily those involved with law enforcement, security, or having a regulatory function) that have been granted heraldic symbols by the Canadian Heraldic Authority.

The coat of arms was granted on June 15, 2010,[1] and presented by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on July 6, 2010. The ceremony was the Queen's last function on her 2010 Canadian Royal Tour. Also in attendance were Governor General Michaëlle Jean and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.[11] Use of the coat of arms is reserved for special occasions, and it is normally associated with the office of the CBSA President.

The heraldic badge was approved for use at the same time as the coat of arms.[1] It portrays a gold tressure, which symbolizes the agency's security focus. The portcullis represents Her Majesty's agents responsible for border services. The Latin motto Protectio Servitium Integritas translates into English as "Protection, Service, Integrity". The badge figures prominently in the television series Border Security: Canada's Front Line.

A flag was granted by the Canadian Heraldic Authority on December 20, 2012.[2] It is meant to resemble the Canadian Blue Ensign, which was flown on government vessels (including those patrolling Canada's maritime borders) prior to 1965.[12]


CBSA Regions & BranchesEdit

The CBSA has seven regions across Canada, including Atlantic Region, Greater Toronto Area Region, Northern Ontario Region, Pacific Region, Prairie Region, Quebec Region, and Southern Ontario Region. The Agency consists of nine branches and one group reporting directly to the President.[13]

CBSA Organizational StructureEdit

John Ossowski has been the President of the CBSA since December 7, 2016.[13] Prior to his current appointment, Ossowski was Deputy Commissioner of the CRA, starting in July 2015. His resume also includes positions at Public Safety Canada, the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS), Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), and the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada.[14]

The Agency's Executive Vice-President, Paul MacKinnon, has been with the Agency since August 6, 2019.[13] From 2016 until joining the CBSA, MacKinnon was Assistant Deputy Minister Strategic and Program Policy at IRCC. Previously, he had held several high-level positions at Public Safety Canada.[15]

Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety
  • Minister of Public Safety
  • Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety
    • President of the CBSA
      • Executive Vice-President
        • Vice President, Programs
        • Vice President, Operations
          • Regional Director General, Atlantic Region (ATL)
          • Regional Director General, Quebec Region
          • Regional Director General, Greater Toronto Area Region (GTA)
          • Regional Director General, Northern Ontario Region (NOR)
          • Regional Director General, Southern Ontario Region (SOR)
          • Regional Director General, Prairie Region (PRA)
          • Regional Director General, Pacific Region (PAC)
        • Vice President, Human Resources
        • Vice President, Information, Science and Technology
        • Vice President, Comptrollership
        • Vice President, Corporate Affairs
A Dodge Charger in CBSA service


Operations Rank Structure (low to high)
Rank Position Insignia
1 Border Services Officer (BSO)

(usually referred to as Officer)

No insignia
2 Trainer 1 silver stripe
3 Superintendent 2 standard silver stripes
Training Administrator
4 Duty Chief 2 ​12 silver stripes
5 Regional Program Manager 3 standard silver stripes
6 Chief of Operations

(commanding officer of a point of entry, either land or airport)

3 standard silver stripes
Training Manager
7 Assistant Director 3 standard silver stripes
8 Director

(commanding officer of a district: multiple land borders or an airport)

1 gold CBSA pin and 1 gold pip
9 Regional Director General (RDG)

(commanding officer of a region, e.g. Pacific Region, Prairie Region)

1 gold CBSA pin and 2 gold pips
10 Vice President (of operations) 1 gold CBSA pin and 3 gold pips
11 President

(head of the CBSA)

1 gold CBSA pin and 4 gold pips

Border Services OfficersEdit

CBSA officers with Vancouver Police in Vancouver, BC.

A Border Services Officer (BSO) is a federal law enforcement officer employed by the Canada Border Services Agency. While "Border Services Officer" is the overarching term for the CBSA's front-line personnel, it is actually not a title derived from legislation. Rather, BSOs receive multiple legislative designations such as "Customs Officer" under the Customs Act; "Immigration Officer" under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act; and "Screening Officer" under the Quarantine Act. When enforcing customs- or immigration-related legislation, BSOs are Peace Officers under the Criminal Code of Canada. However, they can only make arrests for offences under the Criminal Code if they are appointed as "designated officers" by the Minister of Public Safety under the Customs Act (section 163.4) and are at customs offices performing the normal duties of an officer or in accordance with Section 99.1 of the Customs Act.[16]

Currently, BSOs are equipped with handcuffs, pepper spray, batons, and Beretta PX4 Storm pistols. The arming initiative began in 2007 and officially concluded in 2016. BSOs are trained at the CBSA College, located in Rigaud, Quebec. The training begins with a 4-week online program called the "Pre-OITP," followed by an 18-week program called the CBSA Officer Induction Training Program (OITP) which covers a range of topics from law (such as criminal law, immigration and customs legislation) to control and defensive tactics.


The CBSA plays a key role in immigration to Canada, as it has assumed the port-of-entry and enforcement mandates formerly held by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada. CBSA officers work on the front lines, screening persons entering the country and removing those who are unlawfully in Canada.

As of the end of 2003, there were up to 200,000 illegal immigrants in Canada (most residing in Ontario). Most are refugee claimants whose refugee applications were rejected by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.[17] There are very few illegal immigrants who enter the country without first being examined by the CBSA. The reason for this is that Canada is physically very difficult to get to, with the exception of crossing the Canada/U.S. border. As the U.S. is itself a prime destination for illegal immigrants, not many illegal immigrants then attempt to cross the border into Canada in the wild.

There has been a recent increase in the number of illegal entrants from St. Pierre & Miquelon who travel in makeshift boats. High unemployment in the French colony has spurred this increase, which has been acknowledged by the Government of France. The CBSA and Royal Canadian Navy are considering increased marine patrols to intercept the illegal migrants. While residents could lawfully travel to France, the expensive airfare has made the relatively short 5.5-nautical-mile (10 km; 6 mi) boat ride to the Canadian province of Newfoundland more attractive for destitute economic migrants.[18]

Automated passport control kiosks at Toronto Pearson International Airport

Commerce & TradeEdit

The Customs Self Assessment (CSA) program gives approved importers a streamlined accounting and paying process for all imported goods. Importers are required to apply for acceptance into the program

A major ongoing project of the CBSA is Advance Commercial Information, which requires waterborne and airborne cargo entering Canada to be registered with the Agency. Assisting officials at seaports and airports in their inspections, the program allows for the tracking of suspicious materials. These phases of the project were implemented in 2005, with a similar highway and rail cargo program to follow in the near future.

Customs ActEdit

The Customs Act (1985) is one of the key pieces of legislation governing the CBSA mandate.[19][20] It was first enacted in 1867 to:

  • "ensure the collection of duties;"
  • "control the movement of people and goods into and out of Canada;" and
  • "protect Canadian industry from real or potential injury caused by the actual or contemplated import of dumped or subsidized goods and by other forms of unfair competition."

Rather than being a taxing statute itself, the Customs Act provides "legislative authority to administer and enforce the collection of duties and taxes that are imposed under separate taxing legislation, such as the Customs Tariff, the Excise Tax Act, the Excise Act, and the Special Import Measures Act."[20] The Act was revised in 1986 to allow for greater flexibility in modern transportation, communication, trade, and business practices. Accordingly, since 1986, the Act has been amended several times in response to free trade and other related international agreements.[19]

Examinations, searches, and seizuresEdit

All persons and goods entering Canada are subject to examination by CBSA officers. An examination can be as simple as a few questions, but can also include an examination of the subject's vehicle and/or luggage, electronic devices, more intensive questioning, or strip-searches. The intensity of an examination depends on the reasonable suspicion that the officer has to escalate the intensiveness of a search. CBSA Officers must adhere to strict search protocols, guidelines and procedures during the examination process.

Examinations are performed to ensure compliance with Customs and Immigration legislation. CBSA officers are given their authority by the Customs Act[21] and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). In addition, BSOs are also able to enforce other Acts of Parliament as they are designated as Peace Officers under the Criminal Code.

The agency will also seize items it labels obscene, as it did in February 2009 when it detained and banned two films by the adult film director Michael Lucas.[22] CBSA's Policy On The Classification Of Obscene Material states that the "ingestion of someone else's urine... with a sexual purpose" makes a film obscene.[23]

In 2000, after a ten-year-long controversy over items the agency labelled obscene, the case reached the British Columbia Supreme Court. One judge in the case concluded not only that Border officials had wrongly delayed, confiscated, destroyed, damaged, prohibited or mis-classified materials imported by the appellant on numerous occasions, but that these errors were caused "by the systemic targeting of Little Sisters' importations in the Vancouver Customs.[24]

Enforcement & IntelligenceEdit

Immigration Holding Centre in Laval, Quebec, one of the three in the country

Criminal Investigations and ProsecutionsEdit

The Criminal Investigations unit of CBSA is tasked with investigating and pursuing prosecution of those who commit criminal offences against Canada's border legislation.[25] CBSA investigators are responsible for operational activities including:

  • Investigation of fraudulent activities related to the importation/exportation of goods and the movement of people;
  • Reviewing leads, researching, gathering evidence;
  • Conducting forensic examinations on digital devices and media;
  • Execution of search warrants;
  • Preparation and serving of documents (e.g. corrective, civil, criminal);
  • Assisting foreign customs administrations with their investigation of customs offences (CMAA, MLAT); and
  • Criminal prosecutions (preparing a Crown Briefs, recommending specific charges, assisting the Public Prosecution Service of Canada).


CBSA and RCMP members share information on the survey research vessel Strait Hunter, simulating a migrant vessel, during Frontier Sentinel (2012)

The CBSA maintains a robust and comprehensive Intelligence program, which is mandated to provide timely, accurate and relevant intelligence support to operational decision makers at all levels within the Agency. Information is lawfully collected from a variety of sources, including open and closed source materials, domestic and international intelligence partners, joint operations with other law enforcement agencies, sophisticated technical means, covert surveillance, and informants/human intelligence. Intelligence officers and analysts are deployed within Canada—along the borders and throughout the country—as well as overseas.

The Agency turns the information it collects into intelligence by using automated risk analysis, analytical tools, and risk management. This allows it to work toward its objective of balancing security concerns with the need to facilitate the flow of people and goods. The Agency seeks to manage risks through a number of means; including the collection and analysis of intelligence information; the use of detection tools; the analysis of indicators and judgment of front-line officers; and random checks.

Threat and risk assessments are widely recognized as valuable decision-making tools when setting examination priorities. The Agency's intelligence directorate conducts a border risk assessment of its border operations every 2–3 years. Under this process, the Agency assesses the risks of smuggling contraband, such as drugs, firearms, proceeds of crime, child pornography, illicit tobacco etc. The information is assessed and ranked by commodity and by mode of transport. The Agency will include the risks of irregular or illegal migration of people, and the movement of food, plants, and animals, now under the Agency's broader mandate, in the next version of its border risk assessment.

The Agency also prepares a national port risk assessment every two years. The Agency assessed the relative risk to 168 ports of entry in 2006 and 220 in 2004. Regional intelligence analysts, in consultation with other sources and port operational staff, complete a questionnaire detailing port demographics, traffic volume, enforcement, and intelligence information. The 2006 risk assessment ranked 23 ports as high-risk and included information on suspected criminal and national security risks, as well as the risk of irregular or illegal migration of people.

In addition to the border and port risk assessment processes, the intelligence directorate provides daily, weekly and monthly updates on specific threats and trends in unlawful activities. Intelligence officers and analysts frequently participate in tactical and operational law enforcement activities such as search warrants, arrests, surveillance, the recruitment and retention of confidential informers, interviews of detainees and the analysis of seized goods and evidence.

Border WatchEdit

The CBSA Border Watch toll-free info line offers citizens the opportunity to report suspicious cross border activity directly to the Agency in a direct and confidential manner. The Border Watch line differs from other phone lines for the public, such as CrimeStoppers or the RCMP info line in that it is designed to focus directly on border-related intelligence.

Detector Dog Service (DDS)Edit

Detector dogs begin training between the ages of 11 and 16 months and work for an average of 8 to 10 years. Several different breeds are used, but the CBSA primarily uses Labrador Retrievers for firearm, drug, and currency detection, while using the Beagle for plant, food and animal detection. Dogs live with their handler full-time. While the dog is at work, it is transported in air-conditioned vehicles that act as a mobile kennel.

The AMPS program, implemented in December 2005, is a system that encourages compliance with customs legislation through the tendering of monetary penalties. It is used mainly as an enforcement tool on technical infractions, where the subject did not necessarily intend to breach the legislation, but failed to comply in some way. For more serious or deliberate infractions, the goods in question may be seized or subject to forfeiture. AMPS penalties are imposed depending on the severity and frequency of the infraction. Multiple infractions will result in higher penalties under the AMPS system.

The CBSA's use of detector dogs began with three canine units at the Windsor port of entry in 1978. The program has since expanded to include 69 detector dog teams located at ports across Canada. Detector dogs work in mail, air, land and marine facilities. Each dog is trained to detect specific commodities, and are generally trained to fit into one of four profiles:

  • Narcotics, explosives, and firearms;
  • Currency;
  • Tobacco; or
  • Food, plant, and animal (FPA)


Detector dogs provide BSOs with one of the most effective tools in the detection of contraband. Although other tools are available to BSOs, detector dogs are highly efficient in their ability to accurately locate the source of a scent, and thus can save time in labour-intensive examinations of vehicles, luggage, and cargo. This speeds up the process for BSOs as well as for the travelling public.

The CBSA uses passive detector dogs, unlike some other law enforcement agencies, which use active dogs. When a passive dog detects a scent that it has been trained to recognize, it sits beside the source of the smell. While active dogs, which bark, scratch, dig or bite at the source of the scent, were used initially by the CBSA, passive dogs allow the officer to circulate among passengers more peacefully, and are considered by the Agency to be more effective in the course of their work. The Passive Dog training was implemented in 1993, and is now the Agency's preference.


Detector Dog teams (consisting of a dog and a single handler) undergo a 10-week training course at the CBSA Learning Centre. The handlers are Border Services Officers, and are trained on how to care for, maintain, and train their dogs. They are also trained to understand the "Cone of Scent;" odour particles always disperse in the shape of a cone: more concentrated at the source, and less concentrated farther away. After the initial training, the handler must keep up a training regimen to ensure their dog remains in top form. Only about 1 in 10 dogs who begin the training eventually become detector dogs.

While there is no specific description for a detector dog, the CBSA looks for certain characteristics that make a better potential detector dog,[26] including:

  • Ability and desire to retrieve
  • Good physical condition
  • Alertness
  • Sociability
  • Boldness
  • Temperament
U.S. and Canadian border agents

Canada–US CooperationEdit

One of the central purposes for the CBSA's creation was to address heightened security concerns post-9/11, and to respond to criticisms that Canada was not doing enough to ensure the security of North America, especially from the United States, who had begun substantial changes years prior to the 2001 attacks. In the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States, Canada's border operations had to place enhanced emphasis on national security and public safety. As result, the United States established the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) led by Secretary Tom Ridge, who would partner with Canada's Deputy Prime Minister at the time, John Manley, to create the bi-national Smart Border Declaration in December 2001. The declaration would provide objectives for co-operation between Canadian-American border operations.

Smart Border Declaration and Action PlanEdit

The Smart Border Declaration and Action Plan, also known as the Smart Border Accord, was signed in 2001 and is an initiative of the Government of Canada—specifically the CBSA, RCMP, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade—and the United States Government—particularly the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), CBP, and the U.S. Coast Guard. The two major signatories to the Declaration were Canadian Deputy Prime Minister John Manley and then-US Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge.

The accord was set up in order to facilitate the cross-border flow of travellers and goods, consisting of 30 points of common interest[27] to improve both security and trade between the two countries. Included in the plan are initiatives to improve the biometric features of Permanent Resident Cards in both Canada and the US, sharing Advanced Passenger Information and creating compatible immigration databases.

There are four main pillars to the Action Plan:

  1. Secure flow of people;
  2. Secure flow of goods;
  3. Investing in secure infrastructure; and
  4. Coordination and information sharing in the enforcement of these objectives
American Customs and Border Protection and Canadian CBSA leaders meet in October 2018

Canada–United States Integrated Border Enforcement TeamsEdit

Integrated Border Enforcement Teams[28] (IBETs) were created as a part of the Accord to consolidate the law-enforcement and intelligence-gathering expertise of different agencies in both countries. The IBETs consist of members from the CBSA, RCMP, CBP, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. ICE Teams. However, IBETs also enlists the help of other municipal, state/provincial, and federal agencies on certain projects.

In Canada, IBETs operate in 15 regions across the Canada-U.S. border in air, sea and land modes. They are based on a model started along the B.C.-Washington state border in 1996. Since their inception, IBETs have helped disrupt smuggling rings involved in the drug trade, alcohol, tobacco, grand theft auto, and human trafficking.

Policy and LegislationEdit

Independent Complaint Review CommissionEdit

A report ordered by the federal government in 2017 urged for the creation of a new independent oversight committee to monitor, address, and investigate complaints against the CBSA. Currently, CBSA has no independent civilian oversight. It is considered an unusual situation by many provincial law associations as nearly every policing agency in Canada has some form of independent oversight body.[29] The liberal government announced in 2019 a budget allocating $24 million over five years, to expand the mandate of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission. The commission will provide service to both RCMP and CBSA.[30] The proposed legislation (Bill C-98) was pending enactment, but did not clear the senate before the end of the parliamentary session in June 2019.[31]

Electronic privacy rights at the borderEdit

Search protocolsEdit

CBSA policy and protocols for searching electronic devices have changed significantly in recent years.[32] New and updated examination protocols now include:

  • Searching the device only in airplane mode.
  • Not accessing apps or software that connects to "the cloud".
  • Officers must take detailed notes before, after and during the search.
  • Officers should receive adequate training and accurately follow published CBSA policies.
  • Officers must be able to articulate why the device is being searched in their notes.
  • If you feel that you are in legal jeopardy, you are allowed to request consultation with legal representation.
  • Files or folders labeled as 'solicitor-client privilege' will not be immediately searched. The device may be set aside for a court to inspect.


On January 7, 2020, Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien announced that the Agency had violated the law by carrying out unduly invasive searches of personal digital devices. Therrien filed a recommendation to parliament to have the border agency's guidelines for examination of digital devices written into the Customs Act and says the threshold to trigger a search should be defined in law as "reasonable grounds to suspect" a crime or customs infraction.[33] In response to Therrien's comments, CBSA released a press statement announcing statistics on device searches. Legal analysts have speculated that the numbers released may be inaccurate.[34]

Incidents and ControversiesEdit

Search of Digital DevicesEdit

Whilst the laws surrounding electronic privacy rights at the border are currently considered unsettled, a number of new court cases are raising the issue that personal electronic devices (such as cell phones and laptops) should be afforded a higher level of privacy.[35]

In August 2018, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) published a guide surrounding searches of electronic devices at the border. The guide was distributed by major media outlets in Canada.[36] The BCCLA guide cautions travelers that Canadian courts have not yet established if searches of electronic devices without suspicion are considered “an unreasonable invasion of privacy”. Travelers crossing the border are advised by the BCCLA to minimize the data that is stored on their devices to mitigate risk.[37]

On November 12, 2019 a federal court in Boston, USA ruled that the government must have reasonable suspicion of digital contraband before searching electronic devices at U.S. border crossings.[38] The judgement has ignited speculation that Canada should have updated legislation surrounding this area of law.

Alain PhilipponEdit

In March 2015, Alain Philippon, from Ste-Anne-des-Plaines, Quebec, was referred to secondary inspection after returning from a trip to the Dominican Republic. During the inspection, Philippon refused CBSA officers' request to disclose the password to his Blackberry phone. Philippon was then charged with hindering an officer's job under section 153.1(b) of the Customs Act, which carries a maximum sentence of twelve-months' imprisonment and a CA$25,000 fine.[39]

Following his arrest, Philippon said that he would fight the charge as he considered his phone to be "personal." His case would receive national and international attention, with several organizations arguing that the right to privacy granted by the Charter could extend to electronic devices at the border, especially in light of recent Supreme Court case law.[40]

In August 2016, Philippon entered a guilty plea and was ordered to pay a CA$500 fine. The plea meant that no Charter challenge was to be raised, thus leaving unanswered the question of whether or not refusing to provide a password to a customs officer is considered hindering.[41]

Later that month, following Philippon's guilty plea, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association published a CBSA Operational Bulletin which indicated that the CBSA maintains it has the legal authority to compel passwords, but at the same time acknowledges that the law is unclear. The bulletin also states that officers may only use a password to gain access to data stored within the device itself, and not data stored on-line.[42]

Jill KnappEdit

In January 2016, Jill Knapp, a former Sunday-school teacher and software instructor, was detained at Vancouver International Airport after being falsely accused of smuggling drugs. A CBSA officer had searched her phone and demanded her password, after which she was strip searched and held in detention for 14 hours. Knapp requested to speak with a lawyer and was told that staff had placed a call on her behalf, though she never heard from anyone. Knapp had not eaten for 14 hours and was only ever offered a half glass of water. She also claimed that CBSA staff denied her requests to use the bathroom. Following her experience, Knapp went on to advocate for greater oversight of the CBSA.[43]

Gurbir SinghEdit

In January 2018, Gurbir Singh, an Indian national studying in Canada, was arrested by CBSA officers and subsequently charged with possession of child pornography. Singh was initially questioned to determine his admissibility into Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. After a search of Singh's cell phone revealed a photo suspected to be child pornography, Officer Buechert focused his search exclusively on child pornography. Officer Buechert originally sought to continue his search on the basis of gathering evidence for smuggling charges under the Customs Act, rather than a Criminal Code offense. After CBSA officer Buechert identified three "requisite" images of child pornography, he indicated that he continued his search in anticipation of continuing to strengthen the aforementioned Customs Act smuggling offenses, as in his experience, he felt that CBSA investigators would only pursue very strong cases. Buechert was informed by the on-duty investigator in the CBSA's investigations division that they would not be attending or pressing charges under the Customs Act. Officer Buechert then contacted the Ontario Provincial Police, who later pressed criminal charges upon Singh. Singh was subject to no charges under the Customs Act.[44] Singh contested the inclusion of evidence from the CBSA search on his cell phone, arguing that the broad expansive search powers under the Customs Act would render the administration of justice in disrepute if it was applied to prosecute offenses under the Criminal Code of Canada.

On June 18, 2019, the Ontario Court of Justice decided to exclude the evidence against Singh after Justice Elaine Deluzio condemned the “serious, longstanding and systemic” practice of Canadian border officials illegally using the broad power of the Customs Act to search digital devices, without warrant, for the sole purpose of conducting Criminal Code investigations.[45] Justice Deluzio indicated that while broad search and interrogation powers are necessary for the security of Canadian borders, it was inappropriate to abuse such powers to solely further a criminal investigation that was outside the purview of protecting Canadian borders, considering Singh had no ability to refuse the search or further questioning, nor was a search warrant obtained. Singh's case provided clarity on the admissibility of evidence obtained through electronic device searches under the Customs Act, by indicating that the broad expansive search powers of Border Services Officers cannot be used solely to administer the Criminal Code of Canada.

Nick WrightEdit

In April 2019, business lawyer Nick Wright was referred to secondary inspection after returning from a trip to Guatemala and Colombia where he studied Spanish and worked remotely. He took no issue when a BSO searched his bags, but drew the line when the officer demanded his passwords to also search his phone and laptop.[46] Wright refused, telling the officer that both devices contained confidential information protected by solicitor-client privilege. He said the officer then confiscated his phone and laptop, telling him that the items would be sent to a government lab which would try to crack his passwords and search his files. Wright had since considered legal action.

Mohamed DualeEdit

In September 2, 2019 Somolian citizen Mohamad Duale was stopped by a border officer at Toronto's Pearson International Airport and subjected to a battery of questions as he tried to re-enter Canada. The interaction is now the subject of a complaint filed against the CBSA and accepted by the Canadian Human Rights Commission in late September. The legal team for Mohamad Duale argue the 33-year-old's experience is part of a broader pattern of discrimination by the CBSA and underlines the need for independent oversight of the agency.[47]

Peace Arch Border CrossingEdit

In 2010, CBSA Officer Daniel Greenhalgh from BC's Peace Arch border crossing was convicted of sexually assaulting women in three separate incidents after ordering at least four unauthorized strip searches.[48]

On October 16, 2012, Andrew Crews, an American, shot CBSA Officer Lori Bowcock in the neck before killing himself. Bowcock survived. This was the first time since CBSA's inception that an officer was shot while on duty.[49]

Deaths in custodyEdit

Since 2000, at least 13 people have died while in the custody of the CBSA and its predecessor, with the two most recent deaths occurring in the span of a week in two separate incidents in March 2016.[50] Following the latest incidents in 2016, several organizations reacted and called for an immigration detention reform.[51] The CBSA remains one of the few enforcement agencies in Canada without an independent and external oversight body.[52]

TV showEdit

Beginning in 2012, the CBSA participated in a TV documentary series produced by National Geographic called Border Security: Canada's Front Line. The show was similar in format to the Australian version, in that it would follow CBSA officers from various ports, as well as Inland Enforcement teams.[53] The show had attracted criticism from the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Bar Association due to its approach to privacy rights and its one-sided narrative.[54]

In 2013, while filming for the show, the CBSA conducted a raid on a construction site in Vancouver, leading to the arrest of a Mexican national, Oscar Mata Duran. Duran was taken to an immigration detention centre, where he would be presented with a filming consent form. Canada's Privacy Commissioner investigated after receiving a complaint from Duran. The Commissioner found that the CBSA breached Canada's Privacy Act by filming their interaction with Duran before he was advised of the purposes of filming, and found that the coercive nature of being detained in a holding facility would have prevented Duran from providing informed consent for his appearance.[55] The Commissioner lauded Duran as a real hero for lodging the privacy complaint even though he would not personally benefit from it. Duran was deported following the raid.[55] In light of Duran's complaint, the Privacy Commissioner recommended that the CBSA end its participation in the show, after which the CBSA announced that the show would not return for a fourth season.[56]

See alsoEdit


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  2. ^ a b c "Flag of the CBSA". Public Register of Arms, Flags and Badges of Canada. Office of the Secretary to the Governor General. Retrieved 2020-05-17.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Canada Border Services Agency Act. Retrieved on 2013-07-12.
  5. ^ "About the CBSA - What we do". 2006-08-31. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
  6. ^ CBSA mail centres
  7. ^ Immigration holding centres
  8. ^ "Bill C-26:Canada Border Services Agency Act". Parliament of Canada. Archived from the original on 2012-10-25. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  9. ^ CBSA Arming Initiative
  10. ^ Internal Audit and Program Evaluation Directorate. September 2017. "Evaluation of the CBSA Arming Initiative." Canada Border Services Agency. Retrieved on 27 March 2020:
  11. ^ Armorial bearings presented to CBSA by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ CBSA Heraldry
  13. ^ a b c "About the Canada Border Services Agency." 2019. Canada Border Services Agency. Retrieved on 27 March 2020.
  14. ^ "John Ossowski bio". Canada Border Services Agency. 7 December 2016. Retrieved 27 March 2020.
  15. ^ "Paul MacKinnon bio". Canada Border Services Agency. 20 September 2019. Retrieved 27 March 2020.
  16. ^ "Customs Act". 1998-05-12. Retrieved 2017-03-20.
  17. ^ Jiminez, Marina (2003-11-15). "200,000 illegal immigrants toiling in Canada's underground economy". Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
  18. ^ National Post, 30 December 2009, page A7, "Unemployment on St. Pierre & Miquelon brings migrants"
  19. ^ a b Customs Act, Justice Laws.
  20. ^ a b "Acts, Regulations and Other Regulatory Information." Canada Border Services Agency. 31 July 2020. Retrieved 7 October 2020.
  21. ^ "Customs Act, 1985". 1986-02-13. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
  22. ^ Michael Lucas Implores Obama, Harper to Talk About Porn Archived 2009-04-15 at the Wayback Machine, AVN News, February 20, 2009.
  23. ^ Lucas Porn Films Detained At Border Archived 2010-08-20 at the Wayback Machine, DNA Magazine, February 13, 2009
  24. ^ 2000 SCC 69 Archived December 11, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. CanLII. Retrieved on 2013-07-12.
  25. ^ "Criminal Investigations". Canada Border Services Agency. 8 November 2011. Retrieved 27 March 2020.
  26. ^ "Detector Dog Service".
  27. ^ "Border Cooperation 32-Point Action Plan".
  28. ^ "IBET". Archived from the original on 2006-05-06. Retrieved 2006-09-08.
  29. ^
  30. ^ "Border agency watchdog will 'fill gap' for disgruntled travellers, Goodale says".
  31. ^ "CBSA won't be getting independent oversight as bill dies in the Senate".
  32. ^ Government of Canada, Canada Border Services Agency (2019-12-03). "Examining digital devices at the Canadian border". Retrieved 2020-02-26.
  33. ^ "Border agency's digital device searches broke the law, privacy watchdog says".
  34. ^ "Canada's border guards not documenting device searches, says lawyer - The Lawyer's Daily". Retrieved 2020-03-10.
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^ "Refusal to reveal smartphone password could cost man year in jail".
  40. ^ "Privacy vs Security at the Border". Archived from the original on 2016-10-01. Retrieved 2016-09-30.
  41. ^ "Guilty plea ends case that pitted cellphone privacy rights against border security powers".
  42. ^ "What Happens If You Don't Provide Your Cellphone Password to Border Agents? - BC Civil Liberties Association". 25 August 2016.
  43. ^ "Sunday school teacher says she was strip-searched at Vancouver airport after angry guard failed to find drugs".
  44. ^ R. v. Singh, 2019-06-18, retrieved 2020-08-06
  45. ^ "Ontario court slams CBSA's 'systemic' illegal warrantless border searches, excludes child porn on phone".
  46. ^
  47. ^ "Canadian files complaint after CBSA agent allegedly tells him 'You're Somalian' as reason for search | CBC News". CBC. Retrieved 2020-10-15.
  48. ^ Fraser, Keith (June 20, 2012). "B.C. border guard who sexually assaulted women at Peace Arch crossing loses sentencing appeal". The Province. Retrieved 31 May 2015.
  49. ^ Canadian border officer shot without warning: CBSA president
  50. ^ "Secrecy cloaks death of immigration detainee in Toronto jail | Toronto Star". 2016-03-10.
  51. ^ "Deaths in CBSA custody renew calls for immigration detention reform". CBC. 2016-03-21.
  52. ^ "Independent Oversight for the Canada Border Services Agency | In Due Course".
  53. ^ BORDER SECURITY: Canada’s Front Line
  54. ^ Border Security reality show called risk for vulnerable migrants
  55. ^ a b "Border Security TV show canned after federal watchdog finds privacy violation". Retrieved 14 June 2016.
  56. ^ "Controversial reality show "Border Security" cancelled following privacy violation". Retrieved 14 June 2016.

External linksEdit