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 CBSA called on to better explain its methods targeting air travelers

Jeff McIntosh The Canadian Press CBSA targeting program uses risk assessments before arrival to identify air travelers most likely to be ineligible to enter Canada.

The national security and intelligence watchdog says the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) needs to better document how and why it selects certain air passengers for possible closer scrutiny.

The CBSA's targeting program uses pre-arrival risk assessments to identify air travelers most likely to be barred from entering Canada.

Initially At this time, the border services agency reviews passenger information typically provided by commercial air carriers, including age, gender and national or ethnic origin.

The National Security and Intelligence Review Office (NSIRA) has found that the border services agency relies on information and intelligence from a variety of sources to determine which data elements should be considered risk indicators.

An intelligence watchdog report released Thursday says the CBSA has the legal authority to carry out such targeting of air passengers.

However, the report noted gaps in the documentation of the border agency's program activities, which made it difficult to verify that all decisions complied with legal and regulatory restrictions.

“ These deficiencies also hamper the CBSA's own ability to provide effective internal oversight,” the report reads.

A “risk of discrimination”


In 2019-20, the border agency used airline information to assess the risks of 33.9 million arriving international travelers.

“Brief suspensions of freedom of movement of passengers are reasonable, being the State's legitimate interest in screening travelers and regulating their entry,” the report states.

However, he adds that the border agency's activities “must not be discriminatory”, taking into account the obligations set out in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The lack of adequate justification, in several cases, for the CBSA's use of indicators created from passenger data results in a “risk of discrimination”, says the analysis.

It is important to ensure that the targeting program's sorting practices are “supported by relevant, reliable and documented information, to demonstrate that the equality rights of travelers are respected”, according to the report.

The supervisory office recommends a number of measures to improve record keeping and to identify and reduce the risks of discrimination. In the accompanying responses, the border services agency agrees with the various recommendations.

The review, which took place from November 2020 to September 2021, focused on the border agency's triage activities in targeting air passengers in relation to potential national security threats. But it also looked at elements related to illicit migration and smuggling.

Two methods


The CBSA has two methods for sorting passengers using their data: flight list targeting and scenario targeting.

Flight list targeting is a manual triage method that involves first selecting an inbound flight considered to be at “high risk” of carrying passengers who may be in violation of the law.

Agents Targeters then select passengers from those flights for further scrutiny based on their details.

Scenario-based targeting is an automated triage method that relies on pre-established sets of indicators, created from passenger data, that the CBSA considers risk factors for an enforcement issue particular.

Passenger data from all incoming flights is automatically compared to the parameters of each scenario, the report said. Any passenger whose data matches all parameters of one or more scenarios is automatically selected for further evaluation.

Regarding the Border Services Agency's automated scenario-based targeting method, NSIRA found that the use of passenger data to identify potential threats and violations of the law complied with statutory restrictions .

With regard to the manual targeting method of CBSA flight lists, the monitoring office was unable to assess the reasons for the selection of individual travelers and was therefore unable to verify compliance with the Customs Act.

For both methods, the review was also unable to verify that all sorts complied with the restrictions regulatory requirements relating to the use of passenger data by the CBSA, “namely that its use was intended to detect potential participation in terrorism offenses or serious transnational crimes.”

This is due to a lack of precision in the documentation of the scenario-based targeting program and a lack of information based on flight list targeting triage decisions, the report states.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116