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A recent report detailing complaints against services provided by Canada Border Services Agency employees likely only scratches the surface when it comes to the reality of how often incidents occur, says Toronto criminal and immigration lawyer Lungile Tinarwo.
According to quarterly reports obtained by The Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act, there were 1,105 complaints about the services provided by the agency’s employees from January 7 until the end of June last year.
The complaints, it is reported, include a traveller’s name incorrectly matching one with criminal ties, private information given in a public area and “unreasonably lengthy” interviews. Read Toronto Star Story
“I believe that while the complaints that are cited by the report capture a small percentage overall, they are not an accurate reflection of how often such incidents occur,” says Tinarwo, an associate with Hicks Adams LLP.
Based on her own experiences hearing people’s anecdotal tales, Tinarwo explains that she is concerned about the prevalence of these incidents, as she believes many more are occurring than are actually reported as complaints.
For example, Tinarwo says she has heard of incidents from clients that are similar to those mentioned in the report.
”The majority of clients that I deal with are members of vulnerable groups by virtue of the fact that a lot of my clients are either newly arrived refugee claimants or new immigrants to Canada. Their vulnerability makes such clients incredibly susceptible to such experiences, and I find its particularly in relation to the places they are travelling from or their actual immigration status inCanada,” she explains.
“Having an experience such as those described in the article is extremely taxing on such individuals and most of them are unlikely to report such incidents or file complaints against agents that subject them to such treatment,” she adds.
For those who are not necessarily vulnerable but merely travelling for vacation or other purposes, having such experiences is dehumanizing and can have unseen consequences, says Tinarwo.
“Being subjected to unfounded suspicion based on some arbitrary assessment by a border services agent can have a huge impact on a person’s life including the embarrassment of being questioned and accused and made to feel ‘less than’,” she says.
Ultimately, explains Tinarwo, an independent oversight agency is necessary to keep the CBSA honest and transparent.
“The problem is not that travellers might be stopped and questioned, the issue is how the CBSA agents do that. I believe that an independent agency assessing complaints will assist in getting a more comprehensive insight into the problem that exists. I also think that sensitivity training is necessary to get at the root of the problem,” she says. “These agents need to understand the role they play when they treat people who are travelling in that way.”