OTTAWA — Heightened security concerns in the post-9-11 era have prompted the federal government to rethink programs intended to help people in remote communities easily cross the border into Canada.
An internal Canada Border Services Agency review says officials have already decided to scrap one of the programs and likely will revamp three others at a significant cost.
The programs were established years ago, before the 2001 terrorist attacks, to smooth the legitimate passage of travellers and commercial traffic in remote areas.
“However, in the current context of the border, the programs raise a number of security concerns,” the evaluation states.
The review also found inconsistencies between the programs, inadequate training of personnel delivering them, and sketchy data on how often they’re used.
The recently released evaluation, completed in July, looked at four programs: Canpass Remote Area Border Crossing, Canpass Remote Ports, Canpass Private Boats Plus, and Q19.
The Canpass RABC program, the largest of the four, has some 14,000 pre-screened individuals who cross the border into isolated areas of northern Ontario, mostly for leisure, access to cottages or to save travel time.
The Canpass Private Boats Plus program allows access to Canada via certain Quebec waterways.
Members of these two programs currently do not have to report crossings unless they have goods to declare — an exemption the evaluation says undermines border integrity.
The Canpass RPP, with pre-approved 615 individuals, operates at two New Brunswick-Maine crossings, allowing people to traverse the border after entry stations close for the night.
Members must swipe a card in order to cross and are videotaped, which are later reviewed by border services officers.
However, the review found that vehicles and drivers are sometimes difficult to identify, especially during winter months when licence plates may be obscured by snow and ice.
“In addition, the equipment for swiping members’ cards often does not work or does not work properly, with the result that the cards may not be read at all.”
The Q19 program permits commercial importers, generally lumber industry workers, to cross at ports of entry along the Quebec-Maine border after hours, as long as they leave cargo manifests in nearby lockboxes.
The fact that about 22,000 log shipments, representing three-quarters of all such cargo, pass through five border crossings annually under the Q19 program “unobserved and unmonitored poses a potentially high security risk,” the evaluation says.
In addition, once a person is deemed low enough risk to qualify for membership in the Q19 and Canpass RPP programs, they need not requalify.
“As a result, the CBSA does not know whether members are in fact still low risk,” the review notes.
Managing the border in remote areas is inherently challenging, the evaluation acknowledges: “Nevertheless, there is a need to ensure that the CBSA’s mandate and priorities are met.”
The border service agency’s admissibility branch agreed with the report’s recommendation to integrate the programs, which cost about $500,000 a year to administer, into other existing ones.
It says the Canpass Private Boats program will be cancelled and suggests moving its members, along with those of Canpass RABC, into the Nexus program, which involves dedicated stations where people must report entry into Canada.
The agency is also eyeing an American program as a model for replacing the Canpass RPP and Q19 programs. It enables officers to question travellers entering the United States at five locations along the Maine border from a single location at all hours.
The changes would require creation of additional telephone reporting stations as well as automated technology at the Quebec and New Brunswick land crossings.
“As such, it is anticipated that costs will be significant,” running into millions of dollars, the review states.
In addition, the evaluation says the border services agency plans to develop a “trusted traveller strategy” by next March that includes a review of all existing registered traveller programs.