International flights are landing at Canada’s smaller airports each day without border agents on the ground to check for contraband, criminals and potentials terrorists.
Only 15 per cent of 442,305 international passengers who disembarked from executive jets, light aircraft and private charters from April 2012 to March 2013 encountered Canadian Border Services Agency officers, data show.
While large airports have agents on site who randomly screen a proportion of airline passengers, smaller airports where many of aircraft land often have no CBSA staff at all.
Instead, pilots simply send passenger names, nationalities and birthdates to the CBSA by phone or by fax at least two hours before landing at small airports.
But an internal audit of the CBSA’s telephone reporting program from 2013 found that CBSA officers are often unable to drive to small airports in time to check for valid passports, visas or contraband.
Kelly Sundberg, a justice studies professor at Mount Royal University, called the lack of screening at smaller international airports “one of the weakest links in our border security” and said the approach “makes absolutely no sense.”
If someone arriving in Canada is “intent on smuggling a person or goods, they’re simply going to leave the area, or hide the goods,” he said.
“The CBSA (has) identified this as a problem. That it continues is astonishing to me.”
Airlines fail to provide passenger lists
On Wednesday, a CTV investigation revealed that many large airlines have flouted rules about providing passenger information before flights land -- usually without penalties.
Government data reviewed by CTV News shows that more than 3,000 flights since 2013 have failed to provide complete passenger information to the CBSA.
Regulations allow for $3,000 fines for each violation, but only three such fines have been handed out since 2013.
Canada’s public safety minister responded Thursday by saying he expects all airlines to comply with the regulations.
Steven Blaney said the advanced passenger screening system currently works 99 per cent of the time, and that the government is working to improve the system.
“We expect that by the beginning of the new year, the efficiency of the program will be even higher, and in the meantime we fully expect that private airline companies will comply with Canadian regulations -- especially on a matter of Canadian safety,” Blaney said.
Public safety Minister Steven Blaney speaks in Prince Albert, Sask., Thursday, July 9, 2015.
Blaney said that Canada is moving toward a new security system that would require detailed passenger information 72 hours in advance. But sources tell CTV News that system is delayed and may not be implemented for another two years.
Sundberg said Australia and the United States screen passengers 72 hours ahead of time, allowing them to do a deeper analysis of potential threats and prevent risky passengers from getting on flights.
He believes the U.S. would be happy to assist Canada in developing such an advanced system, as it would increase America’s security too.
“If we can prevent people abroad from getting to our borders and through our borders, this is exactly what we want,” Sundberg added.
Earlier Thursday, a spokesperson for Blaney’s office said 98.8 per cent of flights provide “advanced passenger information” to the CBSA.
Jeremy Laurin said that all passengers are screened before entering Canada and that advance passenger information is only “one part of a multi-layered security system designed to keep undesirable people out of Canada.”
He said that any airline that brings over an inadmissible person will be fined $3,200 per offence and “will be held responsible for all costs associated with the removal.”
With a report from CTV Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife and files from Phil Ling