Canadian Border Services most wanted list could soon be bigger and broader

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

The guardians of Canada's borders have had a public most wanted list of dodgy foreigners for the last year or so, that it now wants to expand to include non-criminals who may, or may not, end up being deported.

The Globe and Mail has obtained Canada Border Services Agency internal memos about the proposal to add the names of those who  are wanted for an admissibility hearing but have not been ordered removed from Canada.

The agency introduced its Wanted by the CBSA list in the summer of 2011, posting the names and mug shots of people it wanted to apprehend, along with a tip line that members of the public could call.

Initially it was directed at non-citizens accused of war crimes in other countries, the Globe said, but it was expanded to include people deemed inadmissible to Canada for other reasons, such as national security, organized crime activity or a serious criminal conviction.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has said the program has been successful in getting "foreign criminals" off the streets and about two dozen have been removed since it began, the Globe said.

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This month, the CBSA boasted that fiscal 2011-12 was a "milestone year" for deportations, with a record 16,511 foreigners and permanent residents deported due to criminality or failed refugee claims, Postmedia News reported. That's up from 15,150 a year earlier.

The agency also identified 153,606 people as inadmissible, the first step in a process that could ultimately end in deportation, according to a CBSA performance report tabled in the House of Commons earlier this month.

But the memos obtained by the Globe show the CBSA has struggled to come up with enough fugitives to keep its most-wanted list current, raising concerns within the agency that the program could become obsolete.

"It has become apparent that the regions are having difficulties finding cases that match the existing criteria," states a CBSA memo dated Sept. 11, 2012, the Globe reported.

The answer, apparently, is to expand the criteria.

A second undated memo said it would change to include people wanted for an admissibility hearing but have not been ordered removed from Canada. The change would apply only to those believed inadmissible on security grounds or for criminal activity, the memo said, according to the Globe.

The proposed change concerns immigration lawyers, who worry the list's criteria could include people who are innocent and its publication of their names could damage their reputations.

"Somebody who's already been ordered deported, and has gone through due process and is now just on the lam, so to speak, at least you can make the case that you're seeking the public's assistance in finding these people," Vancouver immigration lawyer Andrew Wlodyka told the Globe.

"But people that haven't gone through the process yet, I think it's presumptuous to do that."

The memo raised the agency's own concerns about the change. Some individuals who aren't under a deportation order could be caught but then released "without being any closer to actually being removed from Canada," resulting in lengthy delays.

"There is a concern that by including these cases on the 'Wanted by the CBSA' website it will be perceived negatively by the public as these individuals have not yet been determined to be inadmissible to Canada," the memo notes.

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But the agency seems prepared to spin off any potential public backlash.

"If the individuals are released from detention or allowed to remain in Canada after a decision by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), then the focus of the public's eye will shift to the IRB rather than onto the CBSA," the memo states.

Toews was unavailable to comment, the Globe said, but a spokeswoman said the minister had not yet approved the change. She declined to say whether he would.