Canada moves to tighten border controls

An Air Canada airplane is prepared at dawn for boarding at Pearson International Airport in Toronto March 31, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Helgren (REUTERS)

The federal government has moved to meet requirements of a major border security deal with the U.S., by implementing pre-screening of travellers from countries that don’t require a visa to visit Canada.

Beginning next year, visitors from countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, France and Chile will have to apply in advance for an electronic travel authorization before they board a flight to Canada.

“It’s a hassle, to some extent, but it can be done electronically and the fee is $7. It’s not onerous,” says David Cohen, a Montreal-based immigration lawyer and managing editor of the Canadian Immigration Newsletter blog.

“The benefit for the traveller is that the traveller now knows before they get to a Canadian port of entry whether or not they will be admissible.”

In February 2011 Canada and the U.S. signed the Beyond the Border Action Plan, which has three significant changes affecting travelers to Canada, including the electronic travel authorization.

The new measure was announced a year ago. Government introduced the legislative amendments earlier this month and announced this week that the eTA will come into effect as of March 15 of next year.

U.S. citizens are exempt.

“If you are from the U.K., normally, you could just get on a plane, fly into Toronto and when you get up to that port of entry, that CBSA agent is now going to ask you questions – and this is the first time these questions are asked – to find out whether or not you’re admissible to Canada,” Cohen tells Yahoo Canada News.

Last year, 7,055 people were denied entry to Canada when they got off the plane, he says.

“Most of those people were just unaware, in all likelihood,” Cohen says.

Travelers from the countries that will be affected will have to fill out the online form for Citizenship and Immigration with passport and background information. The process includes an electronic risk assessment and verification of the information provided against international enforcement databases.

Airlines will have to provide passenger information to Canadian immigration authorities prior to boarding in the country of origin. Anyone who requires an eTA and does not have one at check-in will not be allowed to board the flight.

The countries that Canada and the U.S. are most concerned about from a security point of view – Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Russia, among them – require a visitor visa.

“You have to do this to go to the U.S., so people aren’t going to be shocked by having to do this,” he says. “We’re not an outlier here.

“It really is what the world is now. They want to know who is entering the country.”

Prior to the legislative change, the Canadian Bar Association raised questions about what criteria would be used for refusing an eTA, and whether applicants would be able to appeal decisions.

“The new system should adhere to its stated purpose of being a basic screen of passengers, rather than becoming a new visa program,” Mario D. Bellissimo, chair of the bar’s immigration law section, wrote last year to Citizenship and Immigration.

The Beyond the Border Action Plan includes two other significant changes.

Information sharing between the two countries will expand exponentially on visa applications and admissibility decisions, biometric information, immigration status and any previous refusals or admissibility decision and related information.

Canada also committed to having an exit tracking system in place by the end of June last year. No such system is in place.

Canada Border Services Agency did not immediately respond to an email request for information on exit tracking.