Canada Border Services Agency

Canada Border Services Agency
Agence des services frontaliers du Canada
Common name Border Services
Abbreviation CBSA-ASFC

Heraldic Badge of the Canada Border Services Agency

CBSA coat of arms

Flag and Ensign of the Canada Border Services Agency
Motto Protectio Servitium Integritas
Protection, Service, Integrity
Agency overview
Formed December 12, 2003
Preceding agencies
Employees 14,113
Legal personality Governmental: Government agency
Jurisdictional structure
Federal agency Canada
Governing body Public Safety Canada
Constituting instruments
General nature
Operational structure
Elected officer responsible Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety
Agency executive Linda Lizotte-MacPherson, President
CBSA Homepage

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) (French: Agence des services frontaliers du Canada—ASFC) is a federal agency that is responsible for border enforcement, immigration enforcement and customs services.

The Agency was created on December 12, 2003 (the same day Paul Martin became Prime Minister of Canada), by an order-in-council amalgamating Canada Customs (from the now-defunct Canada Customs and Revenue Agency) with border and enforcement personnel from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). The Agency's creation was formalized by the Canada Border Services Agency Act,[1] which received Royal Assent on November 3, 2005.

Since the September 11 attacks against the United States, Canada's border operations have placed an enhanced emphasis on national security and public safety. The Canada–United States Smart Border Declaration, created by John Manley and Tom Ridge, then first U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security of the Department of Homeland Security, has provided objectives for co-operation between Canadian and American border operations.

The CBSA oversees approximately 1,200 service locations across Canada, and 39 in other countries. It employs over 12,000 public servants, and offers around-the-clock service at 119 land border crossings and thirteen international airports.[2]

The Agency oversees operations at three major sea ports and three mail centres, and operates detention facilities in Laval, Toronto, Kingston and Vancouver.

The CBSA operates an Inland Enforcement branch, which tracks down and removes foreign nationals who are in Canada illegally. Inland Enforcement Officers are "plain-clothes" units, and are armed with the same sidearm pistol (PX4D Storm chambered in 9×19mm Parabellum) as port of entry Border Services Officers.


Prior to 2004, border security in Canada was handled by three legacy agencies:

The CBSA was created in an attempt to address issues found in a review by the Auditor General including an inability to share certain security information and shortcomings in inter-agency communication.[3]


In addition to using generic identifiers imposed by the Federal Identity Program, 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 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.[4] Use of the coat of arms is reserved for special occasions, and 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. It portrays a gold tressure which symbolizes the agency's security focus. The portcullis represents Her Majesty’s agents responsible for border services. The motto Protectio, Servitium, Integritas, translates “Protection, Service, Integrity”. The badge figures prominently in the television series "Border Security: Canada's Front Line".

A flag was approved for use on December 20, 2012. It is meant to resemble Canada's Blue Ensign, which was flown on government vessels (including those patrolling Canada maritime borders) prior to 1965.[5]

Changes to the CBSA

Since the creation of the Agency in 2003, the CBSA has undergone significant changes to its overall structure as services previously offered by different agencies are now housed under a single banner. Not only has the structure of the organization changed, but the range of duties and the institutional priorities have changed. Where the prior coupling of Canada Customs with the Canada Revenue Agency lent itself to a focus on tax collection, the new Agency was created to address heightened security concerns post-9/11, and to respond to criticisms, mostly from the United States, that Canada was not doing enough to ensure the security of North America.

Substantial changes began before the 2001 terrorist attacks in the US. In May 1998, the Government of Canada passed an Act to amend the Customs Act and the Criminal Code,[6] which changed agency policy to allow the officers to arrest and detain individuals at the border for non-customs related violations of Canadian law. These new responsibilities led to the implementation of use of force policies. Border Services Officers across Canada started to carry collapsible batons, OC spray (pepper spray) and handcuffs. The 2006 Canadian federal budget introduced $101 million to equip CBSA officers with side arms and to eliminate single-person border crossings to help officers perform their duties. The decision to arm BSOs has been a subject of some controversy in Canada for several years, but the idea has had the support of other law enforcement agencies as well as the union that represents the affected officers.

In August 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that arming BSOs would begin in early 2007 and would continue through 2016. Some of the first officers to be armed were those working at the Windsor, Ontario port of entry, the busiest highway port of entry in Canada. Arming at the other Ports of Entry across Canada is being conducted systematically with those Ports considered the busiest and/or most dangerous to be completed first. Ports of Entry for all modes now have armed officers, including those at airports.

Current CBSA structure


The Agency's legislative, regulatory and partnership responsibilities include the following:[7]

Border Services Officer

CBSA officers and police in Vancouver

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: Customs Officers under the "Customs Act", Immigration Officers under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, Screening Officers under the "Quarantine Act", and, when enforcing customs- or immigration-related legislation, Peace Officers under the Criminal Code of Canada, authorized to enforce the Code and over 90 other Acts of Parliament. Border Services Officers are equipped with handcuffs, oleoresin capsicum (OC) spray, batons, and are currently armed with Beretta PX4 Storm pistols. The arming initiative began in 2007 and officially concluded in 2016.

Border Services Officers are trained at the CBSA College, located in Rigaud, Quebec. The training begins with a 4-week online program called Pre-OITP, and an 18-week program called CBSA Officer Induction Training Program (OITP) which covers a range of topics from criminal law to immigration and customs legislation.

Operations rank structure

Incidents and Controversy

In 2010 a CBSA officer at B.C's Peace Arch border crossing was convicted of sexually assaulting women in three separate incidents after ordering at least four unauthorized strip searches[8]

On October 16, 2012, a CBSA officer was shot on duty at the Peace Arch Douglas Border Crossing. The attacker was an American man who shot the CBSA officer then killed himself. The CBSA officer, Lori Bowcock, was shot in the neck but she survived. This is the first time since CBSA's inception that an officer was shot on duty.[9]

Search of Electronic Devices

In March 2015, Alain Philippon, a man from Ste-Anne-des-Plaines, Quebec, was referred to secondary inspection after returning from a trip to the Dominican Republic. During the inspection, CBSA officers asked Philippon to disclose the password to his Blackberry phone. He refused and was 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 $25,000 fine.[10]

Following his arrest, Philippon said that he would fight the charge, as he considers his phone to be “personal”. His case got national and international attention, and several organizations argued that the Charter right to privacy could extend to electronic devices at the border, especially in light of recent Supreme Court case law.[11]

In August 2016, Philippon entered a guilty plea and was ordered to pay a $500 fine. The plea meant that no Charter challenge was going to be raised, and the question of whether or not a refusal to provide a password to a customs officer is considered hindering remains unanswered.[12]

Later in August, 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 state that officers may only use a password to gain access to data stored within the device itself, and not data stored on-line.[13]

Deaths in custody

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.[14]

Following the latest incidents, several organizations reacted and called for an immigration detention reform.[15] The CBSA remains one of the few enforcement agencies in Canada without an independent and external oversight body.[16]

TV show

Beginning in 2012, the CBSA participated in a documentary called Border Security: Canada's Front Line, produced by Canadian National Geographic Channel. It is similar in format to the Australian version in following CBSA officers from various ports and Inland Enforcement Teams.[17] The show has 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.[18]

In 2013, while filming for the show, the CBSA conducted a raid on a construction site in Vancouver. They arrested a Mexican national, Oscar Mata Duran, and brought him to an immigration detention centre where he was presented with a filming consent form. Canada's Privacy Commissioner, following a complaint from the man, investigated. 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.[19] 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.[20] In light of Duran's complaint the Privacy Commissioner recommended that the CBSA end its participation in the show, the CBSA announced that the show would not return for a fourth season.[21]



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.[22] 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. This differs significantly from the illegal immigration patterns in the U.S., which stem from illegal border crossings.

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. [23]

Examinations, searches and seizures

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, more intensive questioning, or personal searches. The intensity of an examination depends on the reasonable grounds that the officer has to escalate the intensiveness of a search.

Examinations are performed to ensure compliance with Customs and Immigration legislation. CBSA officers are given their authority by the Customs Act[24] and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. 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.[25] The 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.[26]

In the year 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 Customs officials had wrongly delayed, confiscated, destroyed, damaged, prohibited or misclassified 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.[27]

Secondary examination can at times be a lengthy process and may cause delays to travellers selected for examination.

Detector dog service

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 modes. Each dog is trained to detect specific commodities, and are generally trained to fit into one of three profiles:


Detector dogs provide Border Services Officers (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,[28] including:

About the dogs

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, and the Beagle for plant, food and animal detection. Dogs that are used to detect firearms, drugs and currency live with their handler. However, dogs trained to detect agricultural products live in a commercial kennel as living around large amounts of food full-time can cause the dog to become desensitized to some scents. 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.

Enforcement and Intelligence

Criminal Investigations and Prosecutions

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


The Canada Border Services Agency 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 CBSA 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 Watch

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 Royal Canadian Mounted Police info line in that it is designed to focus directly on border-related intelligence. The toll free number is 1-888-502-9060.

Canada–US cooperation

Border crossing to Canada at Beebe Plain, Vermont

Smart Border Declaration and Action Plan

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 Government of the United States, specifically the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the United States 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, while co-ordinating enforcement efforts in the two countries.

The accord consists of 30 points of common interest[29] 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 countries, sharing Advanced Passenger Information, and creating compatible immigration databases.

There are four main pillars to the Action Plan:

Canada–United States Integrated Border Enforcement Teams

Integrated Border Enforcement Teams[30] (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 are consisted of the CBSA, RCMP, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. ICE Teams. However, IBETs also enlist 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 British Columbia-Washington State border in 1996. Since their inception, IBETs have helped disrupt smuggling rings involved in the drug trade, alcohol, tobacco and vehicle smuggling, and human trafficking.

Commerce and trade-oriented programs and initiatives

Customs self-assessment program

The 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

Advance Commercial Information

A major ongoing project of the CBSA is Advance Commercial Information, which requires shipborne and airborne cargo entering Canada to be registered with the Agency. This assists officials at seaports and airports in their inspections, and 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.

See also


  1. Canada Border Services Agency Act. Retrieved on 2013-07-12.
  2. "About the CBSA - What we do". 2006-08-31. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
  3. "Bill C-26:Canada Border Services Agency Act". Parliament of Canada. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  4. Armorial bearings presented to CBSA by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
  5. CBSA Heraldry
  6. "House Government Bills". Library of Parliament. Retrieved 2010-02-25.
  7. "About the CBSA - Responsibilities". 2008-04-18. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  8. 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.
  9. Canadian border officer shot without warning: CBSA president
  10. "Refusal to reveal smartphone password could cost man year in jail".
  11. "Privacy vs Security at the Border".
  12. "Guilty plea ends case that pitted cellphone privacy rights against border security powers".
  13. "What Happens If You Don't Provide Your Cellphone Password to Border Agents? - BC Civil Liberties Association". 25 August 2016.
  14. "Secrecy cloaks death of immigration detainee in Toronto jail | Toronto Star". 2016-03-10.
  15. "Deaths in CBSA custody renew calls for immigration detention reform". CBC. 2016-03-21.
  16. "Independent Oversight for the Canada Border Services Agency | In Due Course".
  17. BORDER SECURITY: Canada’s Front Line
  18. Border Security reality show called risk for vulnerable migrants
  19. "Border Security TV show canned after federal watchdog finds privacy violation". Retrieved 14 June 2016.
  20. "Border Security TV show canned after federal watchdog finds privacy violation". Retrieved 14 June 2016.
  21. "Controversial reality show "Border Security" cancelled following privacy violation". Retrieved 14 June 2016.
  22. Jiminez, Marina (2003-11-15). "200,000 illegal immigrants toiling in Canada's underground economy". Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
  23. National Post, 30 December 2009, page A7, "Unemployment on St. Pierre & Miquelon brings migrants"
  24. "Customs Act, 1985". 1986-02-13. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
  25. Michael Lucas Implores Obama, Harper to Talk About Porn, AVN News, February 20, 2009.
  26. Lucas Porn Films Detained At Border, DNA Magazine, February 13, 2009
  27. 2000 SCC 69 Archived December 11, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.. CanLII. Retrieved on 2013-07-12.
  28. "Detector Dog Service".
  29. "Border Cooperation 32-Point Action Plan".
  30. "IBET".
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