The Trudeau government should create a new body to review the activities of the Canada Border Services Agency and deal with complaints from the public about border officer behaviour, a federally commissioned study recommends. Associate Vice President Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA)Jacques Cloutier joins Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale as they appear as witnesses at a commons committee briefing in Ottawa. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Create new watchdog to review border agency, RCMP, federal report recommends

OTTAWA — The Trudeau government should create a new watchdog to handle public complaints about the Canada Border Services Agency, says a federally commissioned report.

The report, prepared for Public Safety Canada, also recommends the proposed body be able to look into trends and any systemic problems at the border services agency.

The new watchdog, the Canada Law Enforcement Review Commission, would scrutinize both the border agency and the RCMP, given the frequent overlap between the two enforcement organizations.

The June 2017 report by former Privy Council Office chief Mel Cappe, now a professor at the University of Toronto, was obtained by The Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act.

Scott Bardsley, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, would not comment directly on Cappe’s recommendations, but said the government is working on legislation to create an “appropriate mechanism” to review CBSA officer conduct and handle complaints.

“The government is committed to ensuring that our border services are world class and worthy of the trust of Canadians.”

The border agency’s thousands of employees manage the flow of about 100 million travellers — as well as some 16 million commercial shipments — entering Canada annually. They collect, analyze and distribute information concerning people and goods at border points, air terminals and seaports.

Border officers can stop travellers for questioning, take blood and breath samples, and search, detain and arrest citizens and non-citizens without a warrant. The border agency faces tough questions about its role in immigration detention following in-custody deaths.

The agency’s internal recourse directorate handles complaints from the public, and other bodies including the courts, the federal privacy commissioner and the Canadian International Trade Tribunal examine various concerns about the agency’s work.

But the border agency is not overseen by a dedicated, independent review or complaints body.

Civil libertarians, refugee lawyers and committees of both the House of Commons and Senate have called in recent years for stronger arm’s-length monitoring.

The Liberals have taken steps to keep closer tabs on the border agency’s national security activities by creating a special committee of parliamentarians to review federal security services and proposing a super-watchdog of civilian experts to complement that work.

The body Cappe proposes would fill remaining gaps by providing independent scrutiny of the border agency’s law-enforcement activities and addressing complaints from travellers.

The new watchdog could look at everything from a shipper’s concern about foot-dragging on a customs decision to the treatment of mentally ill immigrants.

Cappe notes that in 2015 there were fewer than 2,400 complaints about border officer actions from travellers. “The need for review is not based on evidence of a misdirected or broken agency. Rather, it is the principles of accountability and transparency that suggest the need for a new review body.”

The proposed body would roll in existing powers of the civilian review and complaints commission for the RCMP.

It would cover the policies and actions of the Mounties and border agency, with power to initiate reviews. The minister and the two agency heads would also be able to direct or request reviews from the commission.

It should have authority to share information with other review bodies and the ability to “follow the thread” of evidence, Cappe says.

The commission, with a chair and four or five commissioners, would have power to compel documents and witnesses, as well as authority to dismiss frivolous complaints. Cappe suggests it issue non-binding recommendations to the RCMP and border agency to preserve the accountability of the agencies.

In addition, the border agency should publish service standards or codes of conduct for officers and establish a public advisory committee to assist management, Cappe says.

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