The emergence of new, highly potent opioids like fentanyl has presented a challenge to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and other law enforcement agencies with complex challenges.
This international opioid crisis places staff at a higher risk of encounters with Highly Toxic Substances (HTS) such as fentanyl, fentanyl analogues including carfentanil, and precursor chemicals. While traditional detection methods sought to identify one compound or illicit substance, with the opioids crisis, this has been less effective because smugglers continue to develop new substances and change the chemical compounds of opioids in response to international controls. The extremely toxic nature of these opioids required the CBSA to develop and implement a HTS framework to ensure officer safety while improving the ability to interdict these substances.
In response, the CBSA has been working diligently with domestic and international partners to identify new tools, technologies, health and safety equipment, controls and procedures to enhance our screening capabilities while ensuring the health and safety of the border services officers (BSOs) who are on the front line of this crisis.
The Agency held an internal Design Thinking Workshop that included participants from the Science & Engineering (S&E) Directorate, Programs, Operations, and Human Resources branches. The workshop tasked participants with developing a new methodology to safely handle and interdict fentanyl and other HTS at ports of entry. The new framework included extensive HTS training for staff, change management to ensure workplace culture reflected interdiction practices, and a Policy Suite for HTS to hold all related information in an easily accessed central location. As a result of this working group, two pilots were launched in the field: Designated Safe Examination Areas (DSEA) and Designated Safe Sampling Areas (DSSA).
DSEA pilots were implemented in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal in conjunction with CBSA Occupational Health and Safety and the Customs Immigration Union. These pilots were designed to determine the procedures, training equipment and facilities that would be required to allow BSOs to safely examine goods suspected to contain HTS and obtain a subset for lab analysis if required.
As well, a DSSA was piloted in the Vancouver International Mail Centre to determine procedures and requirements that would allow for the safe sampling, testing and analysis of suspected HTS by laboratory personnel. These pilots were successful in not only interdicting HTS at the border in an efficient and safe manner, but also providing a way forward for the Agency that is based on scientific processes and analysis.
Budget 2018 identified $31.6 million for the CBSA to implement the necessary controls, procedures and equipment to detect, identify and interdict fentanyl and other HTS in a more effective and safe manner at higher-risk border locations.
This not only aims to ensure the safety of the BSOs while performing these exams but also reduce delays in the flow of legitimate goods, and decrease the risk of harmful opioids going undetected and entering Canadian communities. With this new framework, Agency interdiction efforts will continue to protect staff as new HTS are detected and results are shared with domestic and international partners in an effort to combat the smuggling of these deadly substances.
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