Canadian immigration department granted national security threat permanent residency

The document says that the person — identification details redacted in order to protect their privacy — was granted status as a permanent resident of Canada
Lucas Holtvluwer Montreal, QC

According to new reports from the CBC, a person of “national security concern” was granted permanent residency in Canada because of “a series of failures” by the immigration department and the border agency.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s office called the incident a “completely unacceptable” mistake. In light of this egregious error, both Immigration, Refugees, Citizenship Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency have introduced changes aimed at preventing this from happening again.

These new changes were summarized by CBSA president John Ossowski in a briefing note sent to Goodale in early 2018 concerning the 2017 mistake.

A strongly redacted version of this note was made available to the public through access to information laws.

Titled “Subject of national security concern granted permanent residency”, the document says that the person — identification details redacted in order to protect their privacy — was granted status as a permanent resident of Canada “due to a series of failures on the part of both Immigration, Refugees, Citizenship Canada and the CBSA."

Thanks to this mistake, this individual “of national security concern” is now entitled to the majority of Canadian social benefits. These benefits include healthcare, the right to live, work and study anywhere in Canada and protection under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Many of the details as to why this individual is considered a security concern and the process by which they were granted permanent residency were redacted by the government because officials believed the information could damage "the conduct of international affairs, the defence of Canada or any state allied or associated with Canada.

The document did however reveal that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had “derogatory information” about the individual. This is information that should have been used to determine if this person was fit to become a permanent resident. However, a lack of proper communication between CSIS and IRCC appears to have prevented this information from being considered.

Scott Bardsley, a spokesperson for Goodale, said that a combination of “several unique errors” resulted in the “oversight for a single permanent residency application."

"Those mistakes were completely unacceptable. Changes have been made to prevent them from happening again”, Bardsley said.

"While we do not comment on operational matters related to security, we can say that the government of Canada monitors all potential threats and has robust measures in place to address them."

In the note, Ossowski told Goodale that the CBSA had zeroed in on a number of “vulnerabilities” and is enacting measures to "respond to this incident and to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future."

Some of these measures include updating the national targeting program, used to help CBSA identify high-risk people, introducing new fail-safes for the global management system, and altering the passenger information system.

A statement released by the border agency says that their internal review policies and procedures have been “refined” following this egregious oversight.

Not all are convinced that this is just a one off incident, however. Kelly Sundberg, an associate professor in the department of economics, justice and policy studies at Mount Royal University in Calgary, thinks this could be a sign of a larger problem.

"I don't think one case, one mistake would trigger all of these major changes," the professor stated.

"I don't believe this is the only case. I think that this is probably more common than we believe, and it comes down to process, it comes down to organizational structure and it comes down to investment in officers. So, it's concerning."

The IRCC, for their part, say they will be offering more security training for their officers.

Spokeswoman Nancy Caron said “The department is delivering ongoing training to IRCC officers to identify potential security concerns in order to mitigate human error.”

All of this raises concerns about the various government body’s abilities to coordinate and work together to keep Canadians safe. Some, like professor Sundberg, think an “arm’s length oversight of the CBSA” is needed.

The Conservative Party called for something similar last month when they asked for a review and audit of the immigration system after a Somali gangster was released back into Canada by the CBSA, not once but twice.

Whether these are just two one-off incidents or the sign of a larger trend is hard to say. Regardless, these two cases show the obvious need for greater communication between the different government agencies tasked with enforcing our borders and keeping Canadians safe.

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Lucas Holtvluwer
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