Rules meant to prevent terrorists and criminals from entering the country have been flouted thousands of times by airlines since 2013, yet only three fines have been levied, CTV News has learned.

Airlines are required by law to provide the Canada Border Services Agency with lists of all passengers’ names, birthdates and nationalities before flights depart for Canada.

The lists allow CBSA officers to decide whether any passengers need extra screening once they arrive at Canadian airports.

But government data show that more than 3,000 flights over the last two years have failed to provide complete passenger information to the CBSA. That’s an average of 180 planes per month.

The passenger lists are often incomplete or altogether missing – offences that can land airlines $3,000 fines for each violation, but in reality almost always lead to warnings. Only three such fines have been handed out since 2013.

The problem isn’t new. Auditor General Michael Ferguson pointed to the security gap in a 2013 report, which found that the CBSA often doesn’t get the information it needs to identify high-risk travellers before they arrive in Canada.

“Right now it is to a point that it’s getting really dangerous,” said Customs and Immigration Union National President Jean-Pierre Fortin.

Sources tell CTV News that some airlines violating the passenger list rules are from countries on Canada’s high-risk watch list. They include:

  • Ethiopian Airlines (Ethiopia)
  • Turkish Airlines (Turkey)
  • Royal Air Maroc (Morocco)
  • Cubana Airlines (Cuba)

Canada’s high-risk watch list                    
Canadian airlines, including Sunwing, Air Transat and Air Canada, have also broken the rules, sources say.

Canadian airline issues security issues

Air Canada admits there have been “rare instances” when it has failed to provide passenger information due to “technical or other issues.”

“Our compliance rate is excellent,” the airline said in a statement.   

But sources say that Air Canada complained about the time-consuming process, so the government ordered border control to back off.

In a statement, the CBSA said that a “$0-rated penalty is applied to inform and educate carriers while affording them the opportunity to initiative corrective action.”

CBSA statement

With a report from CTV News Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife and producer Philip Ling