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Welcome to @CanBorder, a podcast offering an inside look at the ways the Canada Border Services Agency works towards protecting and bettering the lives of Canadians and travellers crossing the country's border.

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Episode 04: Seizures: Keeping Canadians Safe

Learn more about the Canada Border Service Agency's seizure process and the strategies being used to keep Canada safe.


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Tamara Lopez: Hello, and welcome to @CanBorder, a podcast offering an inside look at the ways the Canada Border Services Agency works towards protecting and bettering the lives of Canadians and travellers crossing the country's border. I am your host, Tamara Lopez.

We would like to acknowledge that we are recording this episode on the traditional territory of many nations, including the Metis Nation of Ontario, the Anishnabeg, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Huron-Wendat peoples. This land is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples. In the spirit of reconciliation, we invite all listeners to reflect on and continually learn about the land they currently reside on and the Indigenous communities it is home to.

Welcome everyone to @CanBorder, the CBSA podcast. I'm your host, Tamara Lopez, and today's episode is on seizures and keeping Canadians safe. With me today, I have Salvatore Barbieri, who is a Superintendent in Marine and Rail in Montreal. Welcome Sal.

Salvatore Barbieri: Hello everyone, hello Tamara.

Tamara Lopez: Thank you again for being with me today. Tell me a bit about yourself and your role as a Superintendent in Marine and Rail in Montreal.

Salvatore Barbieri: Well, as a Superintendent in the Marine and Rail, our mandate is basically to examine containers. When I'm talking about containers, it’s marine containers and also vessels, so ships coming into the Port of Montreal. So I supervise a group of Border Services Officers, assign tasks, daily assignments on various tasks that we'll be doing on the terminals. Terminals is the, where the ships arrive and then where the ships dock and then the containers are offloaded.

So we have various tests that we can do on the terminal itself or any container warehouse where we will fully unload the commodity, the containers, and do our examination of the commodity, and looking for contraband or any items that are conformed with our commercial importations.

Tamara Lopez: So then what sort of tasks would you do, then, at this terminal? For example, where the ships come in, what do you have the BSOs do, what do you do there?

Salvatore Barbieri: Well, as the ships come in, we have an ETA of when the ships come in, okay, so we'll meet the ship when it arrives. There's two aspects, there's the people aspect and there's also the goods aspect.

So as far as the people aspects do, we'll look at the crew members, okay, and see if everything checks out with the crew members, if they all have their proper documentation to be on the vessel.

And as far as goods, we have various ways we can examine the goods. So containers arriving into Canada are risk assessed, just the Port of Montreal is over 1.5 million containers that will transit the port, and it's a way to find the right container to examine, and that's how the risk assessment comes in. And once the containers are, how would you say, targeted, then we will do our exams. We have various types of exams. Most of our exams, well, all of our exams will begin with the least intrusive way so that the cargo doesn't get damaged. Our point is not to damage the cargo, it's just to intercept any contraband. So we can use our contraband detection tools where we can scan a whole container. We have a mobile X-ray vehicle that we can scan a whole container, whether it's a 20 foot or 40 foot.

From there if we see any anomalies, then we'll refer it for a further investigation. We'll bring it into the warehouse and begin our exam where we'll unload the goods and have a look at the goods itself and the container itself.

Tamara Lopez: And again, 1.5 million that come in, that's definitely a lot to try and think about what you're going to look at and definitely risk assessment as part of the job would come into play.

Now looking at actual goods, or speaking of the goods themselves, tell me about what happens when goods come in that are, say, not allowed into the country. What happens to those?

Salvatore Barbieri: That's a good question. Our mandate here is to intercept and also deter the importation of contraband or any types of illegal activity of smuggling. So in the event that we're examining a container we do come across some contraband, what we'll do is we'll isolate the goods, okay. If we're talking, when I'm talking about contraband, it can be narcotics, firearms, can be in the form of alcohol or tobacco that's not declared. Our mandate is to seize the goods. And we work closely with our federal law enforcement partners, where we, once the goods are seized, we will transfer the goods to them, and they will continue with the disposal of the merchandise and continue with the investigation.

Now, our investigation factor ends at that point. The CBSA will continue liaising with the police agency in order to clear any customs issues. When I'm saying customs, it's anything related to the commercial release or the declaration of the cargo, right? 'Cause the importer is not always involved in any dealing in contraband. It could be just somebody using their name or, so that's where the investigation takes over after. So at the CBSA, we have the Intel section, which will do the liaison with the police. And we have our also investigation section, which will continue the investigation after that.

Tamara Lopez: Okay, so then a seizure, you're saying, of goods for example, is when the CBSA would take, say, physical possession of the goods and have become property of the Crown we'll say, the Crown Corporation, and goods have been forfeited. So what would lead somebody to actually seize an item from a commercial or a ship or from rail, why would an officer seize something?

Salvatore Barbieri: According to the Customs Act, all goods entering Canada must be accounted for and must be reported. So now, if these goods are not reported, then there's an allegation of a non-report, which could lead to a seizure. So all persons crossing the border, whether it's by air or vehicles, need to report what they're bringing into our country. There's a series of questions that are asked to the traveller when coming into the country and they have to answer truthfully, again, according to the Customs Act.

Tamara Lopez: So why would you say then, that it's important for people to know about declaration and why it's important for them to declare their goods to CBSA?

Salvatore Barbieri: If I could refer to food, what impact does it have on the Canadian population or the Canadian economy? Well, for example, if a pest is introduced into the Canadian environment that has no natural predator type of thing, well then it will destroy our crops. It can destroy our, these are wood-boring pests that will kill our trees, okay, 'cause there's no natural predator for this pest. And if I can relate to the maple industry, it'll kill our maple industry, right. If it kills our trees, it's a big industry here in Canada, right.

When we're talking about bringing in food, depending on the, if it's any meat products, then it's related to the agriculture, right? So all our agriculture animals, right, our beef industry, if it'd be contaminated, we would be talking about diseases like foot and mouth disease for the beef industry. It would devastate our industry. So that's why we try to stop it at the first port of arrival.

So is it contraband? No, they could probably do it unintentional, right? But that's why we ask those questions specifically, which will lead to a seizure. So then arriving at the airport and they're bringing in meat products, they're surprised that they'll need to abandon it. If it was declared, they'll need to, we'll give them the choice of abandoning it. But if it's not declared, it's seized and there's a penalty assessed to it too.

In the CBSA, we apply over 90 acts, regulations, right? So we're like the front line, and when we see this, we're applying the CFIA, which is the Canada Food Inspection Agency laws, and we'll enforce them.

Tamara Lopez: That's actually very good you cleared that up because not everyone understands why I'm taking, say for example, the apple away from somebody or my concern is with this, I don't know, patty from the Caribbean, for example. But there's a concern with invasive species being introduced into Canada that we can't eradicate, like the Emerald Ash Borer Beetle for example, or we're concerned with sausages that were made overseas and not properly handled. So things like mad cow disease or bovine spongiform encephalopathy. So that's a very big concern and people may not understand why we're always asking, do you have any meat, cheese, all of that, because there's a big risk, as you mentioned, to the economy here.

Now let me ask you a question. What happens if I went to, we'll say I was travelling, went to Las Vegas and I got lucky, hit the jackpot, won, oh, I don't know, $20,000. What about the currency issue when it comes to declarations and seizures?

Salvatore Barbieri: That's another aspect of our work, the currency issue. Well, one of the questions on our documentation is: do you have in your possession currency exceeding $10,000 Canadian? So that's the question we ask and they have to answer truthfully. And this comes into play whether it is an import or export, right? If you're leaving with over $10,000 Canadian or coming into the country with $10,000 Canadian.

So the traveller will, of course, we ask you that question, you will have to, if you were the lucky winner in Las Vegas and you're coming in with $20,000, well, it's good for you, you'll have to declare it. If you don't declare it, well then that, too, goes into a seizure mode. There's different levels of seizure there too, where the person can lose their money till further investigation. Or the person will, of course will explain and they says, "Listen, I have here-" they have to provide the proof.

And what I'm leading to is if it's a regular traveller that will travel and there's instances where travellers are bringing in over $10,000 and it's involved with proceeds of crime. If the lucky winner from Vegas has all the proofs that it was a casino win, then since they didn't declare it, they still get a penalty. They'll have to pay a penalty and they'll get their money back.

Tamara Lopez: Okay, so I have a question because you said you were coming from Marine and Rail, and a previous person had mentioned that they've actually had to seize a cruise ship as part of, I guess, some sort of investigation that went on. Now what happens when you seize, say, large conveyances like this, such as a cruise ship or an entire, like, at CP Rail or something, what happens there?

Salvatore Barbieri: The reason we're seizing a cruise ship is 'cause it was used to transport illegal contraband. So a shipping company usually is not involved, it's a third party, but there's a penalty to be paid because it was used as a means of transportation for the contraband, so that's why the ships get seized.

A ship can get seized for other reasons too, whether, as far as for CBSA purposes, it would mainly be for immigration cases, where the, not the ship itself, but the shipping representative will have to pay a fine. When I'm talking about immigration purposes, if they have somebody on board that is not properly documented, what we would call a stowaway, which boarded the vessel without them being aware. So again, the shipping representative is responsible for the ship and the ship cannot move until the penalty has been paid.

Tamara Lopez: Okay, so that makes some sense now as to why you would seize such a large item, but it's a means of transporting either illegal goods, contraband, or people that are not properly documented and non-genuine.

Now what about some seizure statistics that we have? Like what has the CBSA taken off the streets in terms of, say, weapons or narcotics?

Salvatore Barbieri: Well listen, border officers have kept over 92,000 prohibited weapons
off the streets in 2021. Additionally, they have 1,122 firearms that were seized. That was last year and it was just double from 2020. So we're talking about firearms coming in at land borders.

In 2021, also the CBSA has seized 1,315 kilos of cocaine. Now the value of the drug seized at that time was approximately $431 million. So these are just some numbers that are coming up. So these are numbers that the CBSA keeps track over. It's, I would say it keeps us busy, keeps us busy when we're trying to deter and to interdict, the point on this is to keep them off our streets, to keep the Canadian public safe, at the same time facilitate the movement of goods 'cause that's our role. We wanna let the goods into our country that are legitimate, at the same time, stop and interdict the entry of prohibited goods.

Tamara Lopez: So Sal, are situations then different when dealing with say a land border crossing or an airport versus where you are, Marine and Rail.

Salvatore Barbieri: Well, it's essentially the same where people declare, travellers need to declare and also importers need to declare, but the difference would be in the volume. So a container can hold tonnes of cargo just as it can hold tonnes of contraband. It could be a container declared as towels and then it's full container of tobacco. Or it could be a container declared with foodstuff, and it's a container full of alcohol. So, but it's, that's misdescription, it's not the right commodity and it's, we'll wait for the commercial entry. The commercial entry is when the importer will declare his goods.

I'm not saying that all alcohol or all tobacco is contraband. But if it's declared as towels and you're declaring towels and then we find tobacco, then it's contraband. But if it's declared as tobacco and he’s got the permits to bring it in, or the alcohol and he declares it as alcohol, well then there's no issue.

Tamara Lopez: Okay, so you're saying that goods, for example, like alcohol and tobacco which are perfectly legal to be imported as long as you have permits, seizures can be done on legal goods too. It's just all, again, about how it was declared or not declared and again, intent and risk assessing.

So let me ask you a question. When you're talking about the containers in rail mode even in marine, do we also do outbound seizures, and there's a really big, hot topic now about stolen vehicles, what is that about?

Salvatore Barbieri: Yeah, stolen vehicles is another big industry that's happening around the country and they will put the vehicles, the stolen vehicles in the containers and ready for export. Now, we have a dedicated team that works with, like I mentioned earlier on Canadian ports, especially the one in Montreal here. We have 1.5 million containers, which is about 750,000 of those that are for export. Now, not all of them will contain stolen vehicles, but what we'll do is we have an export team that will do a risk assessment also. It's the same process as the import containers. Then we're working closely with the police, the local police, in this case it's the Montreal police who leads the investigation on stolen vehicles, okay. And we will transfer the, again, our role is to intercept and then transfer to the police authority that will continue the investigation.

So we've had great success in stolen vehicles. Listen, I would say we can go up to 40 vehicles a week, easily that we will find in a container. And the reason we're intercepting this commodity is 'cause it's a stolen good. So stolen good, that's, we cannot just close our eyes and say, "Oh well, it's stolen well we'll leave it in the container." Once it's stolen good, we'll report it to the police agency and that's where they continue with the investigation.

Tamara Lopez: So then as you mentioned, the police agency and the, for example we'll go with stolen vehicle then gets turned over after it's seized. So then what role, then, does law enforcement play in assisting us with our seizures in terms of say stolen vehicle or other things like narcotics and firearms?

Salvatore Barbieri: Well law enforcement, we work closely with them. CBSA has intelligence services, which their responsibility is to do a liaison with the police agencies. So if we need to transfer any information, 'cause it's again, it's delicate information, we're not just gonna call the police and give them information, we have to go through the proper channel. There's all the legal aspect to respect, okay, where we're not gonna just find things and just act, we will act in accordance to the law. So acting in the accordance to the law, we need the support of the police authorities. So they will, we will contact them, they will help us, assist us in the recuperation of the goods. 'Cause like I said, once we do intercept, we gotta transfer to the proper authorities.

Tamara Lopez: And obviously collaboration's really important, teamwork, especially working in law enforcement, we need our partners and other government departments and other uniforms to assist us of course, with getting maybe a prosecution because this can possibly go to court.

So then when this car, I'm gonna keep using this vehicle because it's fascinating, the car gets seized and then where does it go? It becomes evidence and then what happens? Do I get my car back for example?

Salvatore Barbieri: Well that's a whole different process. So the police force works closely with the Insurance Bureau. So the insurance companies, which is represented by the Insurance Bureau of Canada, they have a great interest in stolen vehicles. So their role, for example, if a vehicle is stolen, if you make a claim with your insurance company, well, you need a car. If the car is not found within a week or I would say within 30 days, well then your claim is accepted and then they'll pay off your insurance claim then you can get yourself a new vehicle. In the meantime, if they do find the vehicle, that vehicle belongs to the Insurance Bureau because they paid for that vehicle, right?

Tamara Lopez: So again, if my car does go missing, it may be hard for me to actually get it back as there's a whole other process. Once you seize it, it's in your custody, then it gets transferred, maybe evidence, possibly going to court, and then it goes to someone else after. So it may be a very lengthy process and someone getting their car back might not be so likely.

Salvatore Barbieri: If it's been in a container, it's more likely that it's been more than 30 days that your car… so you already probably bought yourself a new car.

Tamara Lopez: So then in terms of keeping Canadians safe, how do seizures do that? When we intercept items, what are we doing for the Canadian public?

Salvatore Barbieri: Well, if we look at the prohibited goods, well we're keeping firearms and weapons off the street. We're looking at narcotics, we're keeping narcotics off the street, which should keep our Canadian population safe.

Tamara Lopez: And then also things like maybe getting dangerous people off the streets too if we, seizures can lead to maybe an arrest, is that possible?

Salvatore Barbieri: Like we say, we facilitate the movement of goods and people. It's the same thing when it comes to people. That's why we have an immigration ready, refer to the 90 acts and regulations that we apply, well, immigration is one of them. So we're the, again I mentioned we're the front line. So when the person approaches you, the traveller, we wanna know if he's a true visitor, or if he's coming in for any other reason, other than a regular visit or vacation or, so in that effect, we have BSO officers that are more lean towards the Immigration Act and applying the Immigration Act, and they will conduct an interview. They will conduct an interview.

When I'm talking about people that are not admissible into Canada, it could be for various reasons. Do they have a criminal file, were they involved in criminal activity, have they ever been arrested? It's vast, the Immigration Act, where the people are admissible or inadmissible.

Then again, then you have the refugees, the refugee will claim refugee. Well in that case, you'll have to take the person's claim. So the immigration officer will take the claim of the person making the refugee claim and then they'll be processed through the immigration process. But at the time when there will be interdiction of persons coming into Canada, that they will be asked to leave, allowed to leave voluntarily. Or if there is a criminal, or a warrant for their arrest, then we'll act on that warrant. We have those officer powers to act on a warrant on behalf of the police authority, so we would arrest if it's an outstanding warrant and then transfer, again, to the proper police authority.

And then there's situations where we have another section in the CBSA where there's the deportation of people that were inadmissible into Canada.

Tamara Lopez: Obviously you're keeping Canadians safe in terms of intercepting, maybe people that are non-genuine, and then the goods that you say you get off the streets, the weapons, the narcotics, all of that, that we wanna make sure, even the food, plant, and animal concerns that you'd mentioned earlier. Obviously our role, really important in keeping Canadians safe.

What about any sorts of challenges, maybe, you would've experienced in terms of seizures in, even when you're maybe at land border, and then marine and rail, can this be challenging, for example, to seize a cruise ship?

Salvatore Barbieri: When you're faced with different scenarios, it's, you'll have to deal with it when it comes up. So we have procedures to follow, then we'll go back and validate with our CBSA authorities. We have a legal team also that comes into play. And again, our goal is to facilitate the movement of goods, but in the event that that comes up, well that's something we'll have to deal with, yeah.

Tamara Lopez: Okay, so everything that we do, we make sure we do with a purpose. And then what about thinking back through your history and your career with the CBSA, any big, memorable seizures, big wins for you that you can think about that you've encountered in terms of what we've discussed today?

Salvatore Barbieri: There's been a lot, there's been a lot of seizure, memorable, it goes by volume. When I'm saying I worked at the border and I worked at the, in marine, at land border, you'd have, we're talking about, if we're talking about narcotics, you would have let's say a maximum of 10 kilos type of thing. But when we're working in marine and you'll have containers, I mentioned, volume there's containers with 10,000 kilos of contraband. So it will take you two shifts to finish off that container. Whereas in a vehicle, 10 kilos, so that's how varied it is.

Tamara Lopez: So every seizure is definitely different, not the same between the volume, between the actual commodity, even the method of, like, interdiction, all of it's different and that's what makes, I guess, it so exciting, right? It's a very varied job description.

Salvatore Barbieri: Every day is different. And like I tell my staff, when you're opening a container, you gotta open that container as if it's the first time you're opening it. Whether it's a traveller in front of you, container in front of you, like I said, you can say, "Well, I'm staring at the screen, it's same thing over and over." Well, something is changing on that screen. Well, that's where you're, like I said, you're opening that container as if you're opening it for the first time.

Tamara Lopez: Okay, and so Sal, any final thoughts then on seizures and keeping Canadians safe, anything we should know?

Salvatore Barbieri: If they need information, they can contact us. We have our website, the CBSA website that has a vast amount of information. It's got a, if they wanna know anything regarding importations of the marine container, we have a whole Q&A section on it, question and answers, which explains how the process works. We have also, if you wanna bring in personal goods or commercial goods, information on travelling. So I encourage, that information is there. And once they see that information or once, in my career, I've dealt with complaints where they say, "Oh, why is my container being examined for such, such a reason?" And once we provide them that information and it's clear to them, they understand. And we tell them, "It's a risk assessment. It's not you, it's the whole process." We don't wanna be punitive. Well, we'll examine the same importer 20 times a year. But if the indications are there, we'll do what we have to do, we'll have to do our job. But we, it's a question of informing them and them being aware of what our role is and the importance of protecting again, Canadians, keeping us safe, whether it's the food, plant, and animals, or public safety and just the facilitation of goods.

Tamara Lopez: And you heard it here first everyone, be aware and declare. So I wanna thank my guest Salvatore Barbieri, who's Superintendent, Marine and Rail in Montreal for being with me on the podcast today.

Salvatore Barbieri: Thank you, my pleasure.

Tamara Lopez: And that concludes this episode.

Episode 03: Day in the life of a Border Services Officer

Learn more about what a day in the life of a Border Services Officer is like.


Watch this on YouTube

Listen to audio

Transcript

Tamara Lopez: Hello, and welcome to @CanBorder, a podcast offering an inside look at the ways the Canada Border Services Agency works towards protecting and bettering the lives of Canadians and travellers crossing the country's border. I am your host, Tamara Lopez.

We would like to acknowledge that we are recording this episode on the traditional territory of many nations, including the Metis Nation of Ontario, the Anishnabeg, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Huron-Wendat peoples. This land is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples. In the spirit of reconciliation, we invite all listeners to reflect on and continually learn about the land they currently reside on and the Indigenous communities it is home to.

Welcome, everyone to @CanBorder, the CBSA podcast. I'm your host, Tamara Lopez, and today's episode is on "A Day in the Life of a BSO". With me on the show today is Shawn Yeung, who's a BSO in Prince Rupert, welcome.

Shawn Yeung: It's a pleasure.

Tamara Lopez: So Shawn, as a BSO, what would your role entail?

Shawn Yeung: As a Border Services Officer working at the Prince Rupert operation, we are a marine operation, so we handle and assess everything from immigration and customs-related risks. So we take care of everything, from people coming into the country. And they can come and arrive in our country, in Prince Rupert, either by boat, so that could be a small craft, could be a fishing vessel, could be a multimillion-dollar yacht, could be a huge LNG or container vessel. And it could also be float planes, coming in from Alaska, or airplanes coming at the airport, as well as ferries, with vehicles coming off the ferry, just like a land border, as well as cruise ships, we have a cruise ship terminal as well.

So we assess the risk of all these individuals and their goods coming into Canada at all times. So it's quite fascinating that it's a very diverse type of work we do here.

Tamara Lopez: So definitely, a day to day for you would not look the exact same. So for example, you said that cruise ships come in, or small vessels, are you getting on these actual boats to verify individuals and their goods?

Shawn Yeung: Every Border Services Officer who works at a marine port at a marine operation, such as Prince Rupert, we go through a specialised training at the Marine Centre of Expertise that's located in Halifax. And with all the training that I've ever received, this was my favourite. It was my highlight in terms of the best training that I've ever received, because we get to understand how it operates from the wheelhouse, which is where they navigate the vessel, all the way down to the engine room, and we get to learn different things within the engine room: if it's safe to touch, if it's safe to open up, we go into the crankshaft. We get to really know the ins and outs of the vessel itself.

So we do go onboard the vessel. We have to learn how to board a vessel safely, sometimes at anchor, sometimes at sea. There could be high waves so we have to do it in a safe manner and bring all our gear with us. We also board vessels at dock, so small pleasure crafts, we board those as well, but we wanna do it in a professional way.

So, for example, if you're boarding a multimillion-dollar yacht, you wanna make sure you're not dragging on mud, and you're not gonna be, anything you open or inspect, you do it for a reason, but you're doing it with respect.

We also process people coming off the vessel, such as cruise ship terminals in Prince Rupert. Everyone comes off the vessel, we ensure everyone has gone through customs immigration processing. And same thing for the ferry, their vehicles and goods, they come off, and they're authorised to enter Canada, or not.

Tamara Lopez: And of course, everything that we do in our line of work, we have a purpose, and we do it with professionalism, respect, and integrity. And just so you know, marine is not my wheelhouse, in quotation marks, because I had to learn, for example, how to examine an aircraft safely, because same thing, there are certain panels that we cannot open, certain parts of the aircraft, you're going into the engine area, you have to be very careful about wires and what you're touching. Because, again, these things are very, these items are conveyances, very expensive, hard to repair, we don't wanna cause any damage.

So Shawn what can an officer expect on a day-to-day basis, for example, in your role working at Prince Rupert?

Shawn Yeung: Every day it's very different. And so one thing in common is that we all come to work, we gear up, and we're in our uniform, and we head out. One day could be, we would be using one of our, we call it a COMET. It's a vehicle with a lot of different tools in the vehicle, and we're travelling a long distance. We cover a huge distance all the way to the Alaska border.

And so there are ships who come in from other countries, and these vessels are far away from our office, but we need to cover these territories. So we would assemble a team of officers, and we would go out, we would formulate a plan, we would board the vessel, we would speak to the captain. Assess the risks involved, is the vessel carrying LNG gas products, petroleum, there's a risk in that. We would board the vessel, we may search the vessel, we may have areas of concern, that could be a typical day.

And this could be hundreds of kilometres away from our office. So, they might spend overnight and go from there. Another day could be, we have an aircraft landing at the airport. So, just like the airport mode, we have to go to the airport and process the travellers there.

Another day would be at the warehouse. So, I work primarily at the Container Examination Facility. So, here is where containers are selected by our targeting team for different reasons, and these containers will then be examined. All the goods would be offloaded, removed from the container. And we have different tools from X-ray machines to other detection tools, which we want to ensure they meet all the Acts of Parliament, meaning that they're safe for Canada and for Canadians, and we will intercept anything in a container that shouldn't be arriving in Canada. It could be drugs, it could be precursors. Precursors would be the ingredients that you need to make an illicit drug. It could be firearms, it could be alcohol, and it could be a lot more. But every day is very different, I love all the different aspects.

I think of all the different modes that I've worked in, from land to marine, I really love marine because it's so diverse. We never know what we're gonna get when we walk in the office.

Tamara Lopez: That's fascinating, something again I didn't know. And Shawn, how many on a team when you're going out to examine a vessel, when you're on the road, how many people? What does that look like for you?

Shawn Yeung: So, once again it does depend on the risk assessment. So, for example, if we're gonna be travelling over two-and-a-half hours to our destination, you have to remind yourself that if you didn't bring it, you don't have it.

Tamara Lopez: Right.

Shawn Yeung: So, we got to ask ourselves, "What is the type of vessel we're boarding?" So once again, if we're boarding a vessel that contains petroleum products we want to make sure that everything we bring on is intrinsically safe. What that means is if you turn on your cell phone, turn a lighter on, turn the key on the ignition of your vehicle, that can cause a spark. So, we have to determine the safety of ourselves and the people on board, and that having that cell phone on may not sound like much, but it can be dangerous.

Secondly, other tools that we bring on. So, what is the focus of our boarding? What is the purpose of boarding this vessel? Is it immigration? Is it customs? What do we need to bring on board? Do we need to bring on specific tools for that job, or do we have to stay overnight? Is it winter? Are we driving through a winter weather? Are the tires on the vehicle equipped for this particular journey?

Do we bring, if we have to, and we've done this before, for example, we've had to stay next to a vessel, and we have to keep an eye on the vessel until it leaves. Do we have enough food? So, our vehicle the COMET has a fridge, has a microwave, we have provisions on board. So if we need to stay overnight, we will stay overnight in the vehicle watching this vessel until it departs, if there is a concern.

And the amount of team, well, depends. Do we have a immigration concern? Do we think this person might do something? Do we need five officers, or do we need more? Or can two be sufficient? So, it all depends on what and how, distance, and the purpose of the trip. Typically, the Telephone Reporting Centre will call in for small pleasure crafts coming in, two officers will go and respond to these calls. But for larger vessels and more complex cases, we will have a full contingent of officers who go out.

Tamara Lopez: And there are so many factors to consider that I didn't even realise when it comes to weather or distance, and food and provisions. It is a lot to take in to try and even think about what your day is going to look like, and how much planning and forethought would need into that sort of day.

Now when you're talking about a vessel, Shawn, who's technically responsible for that vessel? Again for example the people that are on board, or the goods, would that be the captain that reports to you or to the CBSA, co-captain? How does that work?

Shawn Yeung: We have something called a pre-arrival notice. For shipping lines, for large vessels, they have to report to us before a certain time, before the vessel arrives in Canada. They have to prevent, present, sorry, a manifest of the cargo. What are you bringing into Canada? Any dangerous goods? We need to know the people coming, that are coming into Canada, we have to know all their information.

And it gives us time to process what's coming in. And with that information, we would analyse the risk assessment of how we're gonna handle that vessel, inspect it or not.

Tamara Lopez: So Shawn you were mentioning that you get the manifest in advance, for things like cargo, so you know exactly what's going to be on the ship, or the vessel, the aircraft, and even the amount of people that should be there. And then how are you verifying this? What happens when something is there that shouldn't be?

Shawn Yeung: So with the pre-arrival, we get a complete list of who's on board, what are they doing there, the goods that are coming in, and if we see any discrepancy we have an action plan of what we're gonna do when we board. So, when we do board the vessel, we'd speak immediately to the captain. And when we talk to the captain, we can verify the declaration, and that's what we're there to do. We'll verify their declaration for customs and immigration purposes, and we're there to verify if there's anything that's off.

So, for example, each vessel has something called a bonnet store. Whether it's a cruise ship, whether it is a container vessel, all alcohol and tobacco for example, are locked into this particular room. And if there is something wrong, that's missing, or that's… we do take action. And those actions can be warnings, those actions can go further and including the removal of goods from the vessel, and even the seizure of the entire vessel, including cruise ships.

We also encounter immigration issues on vessels, such as ship jumpers. So, ship jumpers are people whose intention is not to remain on the vessel, and they want to stay in Canada. And when that happens, we will contact Inland to assist, because the person is no longer on the vessel. They're supposed to be working on the vessel, and they're supposed to leave at the end of the ship's position in Canada. And that's when we call in Inland for support.

Tamara Lopez: And what's fantastic too is that there's all sorts of training that's actually being given by the CBSA from the surveillance and the marine course, and even with the Detector Dogs, everyone's always getting ongoing training.

Any challenges that you experience working in marine?

Shawn Yeung: Not so long ago we came across a container with a 1000 kilo of a particular chemical, and I wasn't sure if this chemical was admissible to Canada or not, or if the label of what it said it was, was actually what was in the container. It was determined from the laboratory that this particular chemical can be used primarily as a cutting agent in cocaine. At the time, this particular chemical wasn't controlled, so, we couldn't seize it in the regular sense. We had to find other avenues to how to, within the Acts of Parliament, of what we can do with it. And we found out through our other government agencies that certain permits were required to import this particular chemical.

And in the end, these chemicals were removed from the streets. It was determined that these particular chemicals does have a legitimate use, for testing. Unfortunately, the amount that's required for testing is very minuscule. So, the actual legitimate reasons for use for the amount of chemicals didn't add up. And in the end a 1000 kilos of this particular chemicals was removed.

Tamara Lopez: Thank you, so, some big wins there for sure in your line of work. Another question for you, through let's say the recruitment lens, if I was a regular person on the street, and I was thinking, hmm, I'd like to get into this job. Tell me about some of your career highlights, and why the CBSA was a good fit for you, and why it'd be a good fit for somebody else?

Shawn Yeung: I really feel I'm making a difference. My uncle was a police officer in Hong Kong, and I myself moved to Canada from Hong Kong at a very young age, around seven years old. And so I came here as an immigrant, and every time I land someone in Canada at the border, and they become a permanent resident, I remember those faces. I remember how the smile, they wanna shake my hand, like they feel so happy that they've achieved permanent residency, and that brings a smile to my face.

When I find things that intersect, for example, most recently we intersected a large quantity of prohibited devices. There's no handcuffs, it's all in the container, but these are things that we took off the street. And it makes me really happy and proud of my team that we did that. So, all these little things, in my opinion, makes the difference of why we come to work each every day.

I learned some valuable skills. I mentioned earlier about the Marine Centre of Expertise. I would've never known anything about an engine in that sense, till I got there. I also learned how to drive a big X-ray truck. This X-ray truck has 16 tires, and can X-ray a huge container, or a car, or a vehicle in less than a minute, in less than 30 seconds, and we can see everything inside. And that ability and those skills that I've achieved and learned, I wouldn't have learned anywhere else but with the CBSA. So, I'm very grateful for the opportunities, and for… you know, it's life-changing.

Tamara Lopez: And that's absolutely amazing. Again, big win for all of us when we do intercept and take narcotics off the street, or things like prohibited devices and weapons that could be a threat to the safety of Canadians, and how we're able to work together, amongst ourselves and outside the agency with other departments in order to create that collaborative effort to ensure the safety of Canadians.

So, I want to thank you for being on this episode of @Canborder with me, and for providing your insight into "A Day in the Life of a BSO".

Episode 02: Traveller Modernization

Learn more about how technology is being used at the Canada Border Services Agency and in what ways it will help improve your experience at the border.


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Tamara Lopez: Hello, and welcome to @CanBorder, a podcast offering an inside look at the ways the Canada Border Services Agency works towards protecting and bettering the lives of Canadians and travellers crossing the country's border. I am your host, Tamara Lopez.

We would like to acknowledge that we are recording this episode on the traditional territory of many nations, including the Metis Nation of Ontario, the Anishnabeg, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Huron-Wendat peoples. This land is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples. In the spirit of reconciliation, we invite all listeners to reflect on and continually learn about the land they currently reside on and the Indigenous communities it is home to.

Welcome everyone to @CanBorder, the CBSA podcast. I’m your host Tamara Lopez and today’s topic is Traveller Modernization. With me today I have Erin Aubé, the Director of Traveller Projects. She’s calling in from Ottawa. And I have Maxime Jenkins-Lagueux, who is Acting Chief of Operations at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport in Montreal. Welcome both of you.

Maxime Jenkins-Lagueux: Hello everyone.

Erin Aubé: Good morning, Tamara.

Tamara Lopez: Thank you for being with me today. So let’s get right into the topic on traveller modernization. Talk to me, what exactly is traveller modernization?

Erin Aubé: Traveller modernization is an effort to de-stress the border crossing experience. What we’re looking to do is push the border out and implement self-service tools so that travellers can submit as much information as possible pre-arrival. So we’re looking at things like apps and kiosks to reduce the amount of in-person interaction at air customs halls. Right now we do have ArriveCAN, which is a free for download application that travellers must use. But we’re looking to leverage that and enhance that to allow travellers the opportunity to submit their declaration for customs and immigration in advance of arrival.

So in doing so, it offers travellers the opportunity to fill that out in advance of arrival, which, you know, kind of on their own time. It gives them the opportunity to take the time they need to answer the questions and provide whatever information is required to cross the border. Maybe instead of, you know, after a long flight or a long drive having to provide and answer the questions the officer asks. We currently have two pilots of the Advance CBSA Declaration running. One is running at Vancouver International Airport and the other one at Toronto Pearson International Airport. So travellers arriving at those two locations are able to submit their declaration pre-arrival, fill out all those questions that officers normally ask on a voluntary basis and then when they arrive in those customs halls, they can proceed to a customs kiosk. So it saves a lot of time whenever travellers use the self-service tools rather than waiting to answer those questions on the kiosk or to an officer at our airports.

Tamara Lopez: You mentioned kiosks, what kiosks are we talking about right now? Are they those PIK machines and what does that stand for?

Erin Aubé: Yeah, so the kiosks that are in place at our major airports are Primary Inspection Kiosks or PIKs. So they enable travellers to use self-service tools. So approach the kiosk, it takes a picture, that picture is compared with the photo that’s on the passport chip. So there’s a chip in your passport that contains your picture. So that photo taken by the kiosk is matched against the one that’s in the passport. And then travellers are able to enter their declaration information on the kiosk. A receipt is printed and then that’s what they take to the officer. So it enables the collection of, kind of the administrative information, if you will, the declaration, the capture of the document so that those travellers can proceed to a officer for further review.

Tamara Lopez: So talking about PIK machines, can anybody use these machines? Foreign nationals, Canadians?

Maxime Jenkins-Lagueux: Yes, of course. This is a great addition with the PIK machine is that it improve accessibility for all passengers. For example, the machine can go up or down to adjust height for people that are, for example, in the wheelchair. It also offers translation so if you’re coming from Spain, you can get a translation in Spanish or even in German. It’s even possible to reprogram the machine if we observe that a language has not been set up in the PIK machines and we’re getting new flights.

For example, in Montreal recently, there was a direct flight added from Delhi. So Hindi was added to the PIK machine to help us process passengers.

Tamara Lopez: And that’s great to obviously be very inclusive for other languages that are popular or well-spoken across the world.

Erin, back to you. When we’re looking about the implementation of the technologies across the border, how has COVID affected implementation of these technologies?

Erin Aubé: Well, CBSA was looking to implement more self-service technologies and tools for travellers in advance to the pandemic. What the pandemic did was speed up our timelines for some of those, the implementation of some of those projects.

And for instance, like ArriveCAN was a COVID response. We needed to be able to collect public health information from travellers. So we very quickly put together that application and rolled it out in all modes, air, land, marine, rail, for travellers entering Canada regardless of mode. So it was really an opportunity to be able to advance these technologies and implement them in a very quick timeframe as a response to COVID-19.

Tamara Lopez: Erin, you had mentioned earlier about a long drive. So are PIK machines, for example, at land borders, or is ArriveCAN available at a land border or machines, are they just at the airports?

Erin Aubé: So ArriveCAN is available in all modes. So whether you’re travelling by air or land or rail or cruise, ArriveCAN is available in these locations. It must be, it’s mandatory for travellers to use it to enter their information in advance of arrival.

Primary Inspection Kiosks or PIKs are only available at the airport at the present time. We are however looking into the application of gates, electronic gating at land border locations to expedite traveller processing much like we do in the airports.

Tamara Lopez: And then talking about the ArriveCAN app, what sort of information am I actually putting into that ArriveCAN app? My passport details, what goes into that?

Maxime Jenkins-Lagueux: Right now, the ArriveCAN app is able to gather biographic information such as your name, your address, and where you live and in the future the ArriveCAN will be also used to gather all custom and information declarations.

Tamara Lopez: So when someone completes this ArriveCAN app, what happens? Do they get a code, do they get some sort of a free pass? What happens to the traveller or for the traveller?

Maxime Jenkins-Lagueux: So people, when they’re leaving their country of origin, for example, they’re travelling from France to Canada, the first step they have to do is to fill out their ArriveCAN declaration. They’re gonna log in either onto a desktop of a PC, a normal computer onto the website of ArriveCAN, or into the mobile application on their mobile device to be able to enter their biographic information such as their names and their passport information. So once everything is entered into the ArriveCAN, they get some kind of a green light and it issues a code that is a reference for Border Services Officer once they arrive to the border.

So after the declaration is submitted through the ArriveCAN and the plane has landed to an airport for example, passengers are processed through the custom hall and they have to provide that code to a Border Services Officer. All the information is already in CBSA’s system, it’s already provided and there is some checks that are done automatically by the app to validate the information that has been submitted. For example, it can identify if there are some irregularities. So it helps us detect some fraud in these cases.

Tamara Lopez: Moving into, again, how these technologies will now impact travellers? Erin, how does it impact the travellers, the technologies that are being implemented by the CBSA?

Erin Aubé: Well, firstly it’s faster for travellers. Travellers that are participating in the pilot that I mentioned earlier, so submitting their personal information pre-arrival, are seeing a 50% reduction in their processing times. So that’s first and foremost the greatest benefit to travellers of traveller modernization.

The second is that it reduces the stress. So you don’t have to have, you’re not fumbling for your documents, or, you know, having to think very hard to answer the questions ‘cause you’ve already done so kind of at your own speed, in the comfort of your home or hotel room. You’re able to do that before you arrive and so you’re not as stressed as you go through the process.

And third, it reduces the risk of disease transmission. So because you’re being processed more quickly, it means less time spent in that customs hall, which means less chance of disease transmission or COVID infection.

Tamara Lopez: And that’s obviously taking safety into consideration. So less people gathering in the primary hall or less interaction with other officers, other travellers, and of course pushing the border out. So ensuring that we de-stress the entire border experience for the travelling public.

And then Erin, just again, explain or describe to me what pushing the borders out, that terminology means coming from the traveller perspective?

Erin Aubé: So pushing the border out from the traveller perspective is completing, answering the questions, completing the forms in advance of arrival So again, with a view of de-stressing making the border crossing experience a little less stressful.

Tamara Lopez: Maxime, what about the perspective of yourself or those working for you at the airport? How’s that technology assisting with travellers’ experience?

Maxime Jenkins-Lagueux: Well, it’s good for everyone. Technology is always a great addition to what we do and it helps us doing more with less as well. Border Services Officers are highly qualified for different areas or border integrity, and what technology allows us to do is to focus our energy into intercepting passengers that represents a risk to Canada or Canadian and to facilitate the entry of passengers that represents no risk.

So the technology with the help of ArriveCAN or the PIK machine helps us conduct a risk assessment based process before people get to the border, or even once they’re at the border, which facilitate the work of the Border Services Officer, instead of focusing on asking questions about, “Are you bringing back alcohol or weapons?” They can really focus their work into intercepting people that represents a risk in organised criminality, for example, or terrorism.

Tamara Lopez: So you’re saying that the machines, again, assist the BSOs as well as of course the CBSA with risk assessment?

Maxime Jenkins-Lagueux: Yes. Yes, that's exactly it. When people get to the machine, if we put aside Advance Declaration, once people get to the airport and they present themselves to the PIK machine, they enter their custom and immigration declaration. And there is also a picture that is taken at the same time as they’re scanning their passport. So there is a verification that is made between the picture that is taken at the airport and the picture that is contained on the electronic chip, like Erin mentioned earlier. So this helps us a lot with identifying passengers.

For example, if you, Tamara, and you were travelling to Canada, you could use the passport of someone else, or just change the information that is contained on the physical passport. However, when you would get to the PIK machine and there would be that picture taken, and then that picture would be validated with the information that is contained on the passport. It would pull out a flag to the officer that you would see before exiting the airport saying “Oh, watch out. It might not be Tamara that is in front of you.” So then we would be able to focus our energy into further investigating you that represents a risk rather than investigating everyone that don’t represent a risk.

Tamara Lopez: Now that’s very fascinating. Yes, so the technology’s able to determine or detect if, again, I am the person or the actual bearer or holder of that document. How else would you say then that the technologies are benefiting BSOs? Is there a concern, for example, that maybe the machines were here to replace BSOs even?

Maxime Jenkins-Lagueux: There will always be a concern and we lived it through history. If we go back, even outside of CBSA, technology is always seen as a risk but it is not the intention of the CBSA to replace officers with machines. It's really just like an added tool. It's something that would help us doing our work better and focus our energy into something that represent a bigger value than just processing every single person entering Canada. And there are some concerns within the officers that machines or technologies could be replacing officers. However, we're moving further and further away from this as people see the impact of technology and how it helps them to do their work.

Tamara Lopez: Okay, good. So it was good to know, so similar to maybe if you were to go through, let's say self checkout at a big box store and you're able to go through but you will always have to encounter a real live person at the end to verify. So I went through at Costco self-checkout, but someone at the exits going to verify my receipt to ensure that my receipt matches my goods just like an officer would do the same at the airport.

Maxime Jenkins-Lagueux: Exactly, right now, what's going on is we're not moving fully away from seeing a Border Services Officer in airport operations. We're just trying to reduce the amount of time that people spend in front of an officer. As we mentioned earlier, you know, it's stressful coming to the border. And the more steps you add, the more stress you add to someone coming back from a long trip, for example, and the best example is most people working at the CBSA are still stressed when they go through border processing, because you come in and you wanna be sure that you declared everything that you have, and that the person in front of you, in that case, the Border Services Officer will see you for who you are truly and there's always that stress that, "Oh, is he doubting what I'm saying?" So we're trying to reduce that contact for people that are at lower risk. So right now the way it works at an airport, we see an officer only twice. Once the person has done their declaration at the PIK machine, they're gonna see an officer to confirm their identity as well as their declaration receipt. And then they will be allowed to enter the custom hall where they will go get their baggages and go pay taxes and duties, for example. And after that, they will be led through our exit, the exit of the CBSA zone where another officer will verify that there are no flags raised on the receipt. For example, they need to go through a secondary examination where we search luggage for contraband.

Tamara Lopez: And yes, you are absolutely right. Even myself as an officer, I am still stressed when I go across the border because I'm always afraid if I stumble, does it look like I'm concealing information? What is happening? So I completely understand of why we wanna try and minimise the stress on the individuals.

Let us clear up though some misconceptions at the airport or even at land borders.

Random, does the CBSA, do they do body scans?

Maxime Jenkins-Lagueux: No, they don't. That's a good one Tamara because people think that sometime the CBSA is being confused with airport security. So what we tell people to reassure them is that the CBSA is the agency you will come in contact when you arrive to Canada from an international travel. And the only thing we put in x-rays at the CBSA are luggages or conveyances, never people.

Tamara Lopez: Okay, good. So we're not x-raying people. Just again, someone's baggage or maybe a conveyance. Talking about then the PIK machines that are in existence. Are travellers being recorded? And then, what are their photographs being used for?

Erin Aubé: So the PIK kiosk doesn't take a recording of the traveller. It does take a picture. The traveller knows that it's taking a picture. It prompts you on screen that it is. And they'll even give you a frame to see kind of what you look like in that picture that the kiosk is taking. The purpose of that picture is to compare it against the photo in the electronic chip of your E-passport. So it's doing a biometric verification, a one-to-one match. Does the person who's presenting to the kiosk match the picture that's on the passport? And the reason for that of course is identity fraud. Making sure that we have the right individual, we have the identity of the traveller that's presenting.

Tamara Lopez: And then what about privacy? I'm sure that's also a concern too. How long does the information you collect for example, from the machine stay on file? And then do you work with someone else in terms of ensuring the privacy of the traveller?

Erin Aubé: So data collected on entry is captured for six years if it's a regular passage with no enforcement action taken. If it is a case that involves an investigation or criminal charges, that information is kept a bit longer. It must be for the proper criminal proceeding to take place. But in commonplace, it's six years for a regular passage. In terms of privacy considerations, CBSA works closely with the office of the Privacy Commission to make sure not only your biometric, but also your biographical data, so your tombstone name, date of birth. Information is protected within our systems. Our IT applications and databases are designed with privacy in mind and have a number of security layers to ensure the protection of your data.

Tamara Lopez: So that's the biometrics that are being collected from people you obviously ensure that it's protected in a safe way. Is that even somewhere in the Customs Act, maybe? About privacy and information sharing?

Maxime Jenkins-Lagueux: Yes, it is actually into the Custom Act under Article 107. Protecting information is really critical to the CBSA and there are very few instance where we can share the information that we collect either with other enforcement partners or just the general public.

Tamara Lopez: Okay then Maxime, back to you. Question about fingerprint usage. What do you use the fingerprints for? Talk to me about the history of the fingerprint.

Maxime Jenkins-Lagueux: Actually, fingerprints at the CBSA started in the early '90s and it was one of the first action that was taken towards the use of biometrics. And right now the way we use biometrics is to confirm identity once again, for example, when we issue a Canadian visa that is required to enter Canada, or if someone applies for a work or a study permit abroad, they need to go to get their biometric information captured through fingerprints and pictures. And then once they arrive to Canada, after they go through that whole process we've been discussing, they need to go see a Border Services Officer that will process their work permit at the Port of Entry. So they will take the fingerprints to validate that the information that was captured abroad prior to arrival to Canada represents the same as the person that's submitting at the airport. So it's just to confirm that the person that applied for the visa or the work or study permit abroad is the same as the one that is entering the country on that date.

Tamara Lopez: So just like the verification of my face with my passport in the machine, we're also using fingerprints to ensure that the person that applied overseas is a person that's in front of us that day.

Maxime Jenkins-Lagueux: Exactly.

Tamara Lopez: Okay, Erin, question for you. What do we think about now the future of traveller modernization, what does that look like?

Erin Aubé: CBSA is looking to enhance the ArriveCAN application and deploy that Advance CBSA Declaration feature to additional airports in the coming year. So currently we have it available at Vancouver International Airport and Toronto Pearson International Airport and we're looking to expand the availability of that feature to additional airports within the next year. So that will allow travellers arriving at those other airport locations the ability to submit their declaration pre-arrival and make use of those time efficiencies that I mentioned previously. So we'll be able to be processed faster.

Outside of that, CBSA is looking to expand the use of the ArriveCAN application Advance CBSA Declaration feature in all modes. So land, rail, cruise, wherever travellers enter Canada, would be able to leverage the ArriveCAN application and submit their declaration voluntarily to CBSA in advance of arrival. And again, with the view of expediting the travel.

Tamara Lopez: And Maxime, what about your perspective on the future of traveller modernization?

Maxime Jenkins-Lagueux: Well, I think the first word that comes to mind is exciting for us in operations. We're really looking forward to making the border experience better and easier for travellers that deserve it. So if you are a family that is coming back from Disneyland for example, and we don't need to ask you too many questions or investigate you further, we want your experience at the border to be seamless and easy with just the right amount of CBSA officer being involved.

And whereas on the other end we wanna make it tougher for people that have no reason to come to Canada or that represent a risk to the safety of Canadians, we want to boost border integrity with the use of technology which is what we're on the way to do so it's making it better for everyone.

Tamara Lopez: And Maxime for yourself, being in the operations, what is your take again on the modernization of the border and then the travel industry? How have you seen it implemented firsthand at Pierre Elliott Trudeau?

Maxime Jenkins-Lagueux: Well, first it started with the implementation of the PIK machines. That was one of the big step where we started using technology to make the whole border process easier. I'm sure everybody remembers back in the days when you had to fill out a paper card in the airplane and then get to the border and once you get off the plane and you walk your way to the custom hall, and oops, you forgot your custom declaration card. So you had to redo another one and then there are delays and you have to submit that card to an officer that needs to validate it and again, there are more delays.

So really border modernization is meant to make everything faster and safer. We want to reduce the amount of time that people spend doing their declaration but also the amount of time that our officers spend validating that declaration. And that's what technology allows us to do right now. So if people are able to submit their declaration on the PIK machine and it issues a receipt, it's the same receipt for everyone. It makes it easier for our officer to look at that receipt and analyse and take a decision based on the information that is presented to us.

Tamara Lopez: Okay, so they're facing out those old school E311 or the customs declarations cards, again for something a bit more modern because everyone has smartphones and smart technology so I think an app or an application is the better way to go.

So Erin, any final thoughts on traveller modernization?

Erin Aubé: So just a kind of a comment on the, everybody has a smartphone.

Most people do. There still are quite a few travellers that don't, however, so that's why we do have the ArriveCAN web form. So you don't need a smartphone to cross the border based on where we're going with traveller modernization. You can fill out the ArriveCAN form and the Advance CBSA Declaration via the web form in future. And then you get an email receipt and you print it out and you can use that. So there's no need to go out and buy smartphones. We've got you covered if you don't have one.

Tamara Lopez: I didn't even realise that and you're right. Not everyone does.

Certain demographics may not even have smartphones. I don't think my mother has one yet. We're working on getting her one hopefully for her birthday, but yes, there's another option too. So again, if they don't have the smartphone app then we can use the web, but we're definitely trying to go with more paperless sorts of pre-declaration in terms of traveller modernization.

And then Maxime, any final thoughts on traveller modernization, what you've seen in your operations?

Maxime Jenkins-Lagueux: Again, just really, that is exciting. We have to keep in mind that people travel a lot. We hope they're gonna start travelling again following the end of restrictions or the end of the pandemic in a, let's hope, a near future.

But it is just to make the border processing easier for everyone and to be welcoming as a nation to others that are willing to come and visit and to be a little bit less welcoming for people that we need to intercept for security or criminal reasons.

Tamara Lopez: Of course, definitely have to make sure that we are always doing our job protecting the safety and security of Canada.

Well, that concludes this episode of @CanBorder, the CBSA podcast on traveller modernization. I definitely wanna thank my guests Erin Aubé and Maxime Jenkins-Lagueux for being with me today. So thank you.

Episode 01: Detector Dogs

Learn more about what it's like working with Detector Dogs at the Canada Border Services Agency.


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Tamara Lopez: Hello, and welcome to @CanBorder, a podcast offering an inside look at the ways the Canada Border Services Agency works towards protecting and bettering the lives of Canadians and travellers crossing the country's border. I am your host, Tamara Lopez.

We would like to acknowledge that we are recording this episode on the traditional territory of many nations, including the Metis Nation of Ontario, the Anishnabeg, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Huron-Wendat peoples. This land is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples. In the spirit of reconciliation, we invite all listeners to reflect on and continually learn about the land they currently reside on and the Indigenous communities it is home to.

Welcome everyone to @CanBorder, the CBSA podcast. I'm your host, Tamara Lopez and today's episode is on Detector Dogs. I'm sure we're all excited to learn about Detector Dogs in the CBSA, so let me introduce today's guests. We have Ryan Gamble, Jean Brochu, Supervisor, Detector Dog Training Program in Rigaud, Quebec, and Emily Rowe. Welcome everyone.

Emily Rowe: Thank you.

Ryan Gamble: Thank you, good to be here.

Jean Brochu: Thank you and nice to be here.

Tamara Lopez: So let me get into my first question. Ryan, what is a Detector Dog and what do they do on a daily basis?

Ryan Gamble: So the Detector Dogs fall under the detection tools that CBSA employs on a daily basis. My canine partner Indy and myself work in various areas of the airport, screening passengers, luggage, cargo and aircraft.

Tamara Lopez: Now, do you work in a team or do you work by yourself?

Ryan Gamble: I work with a team, the Enforcement Teams, mostly. This is where we like to concentrate our efforts on higher risk destinations that are coming in. Could be trans-border or international.

Tamara Lopez: Okay now Emily, same question for you. So you have a Detector Dog as well. What do you and your canine partner do on a daily basis?

Emily Rowe: So Paige and I are working primarily in the land mode. So we focus on transport trucks, cars, people, we search a courier system within our facility. And every once in a while, we get called out to do trains and any planes that may come into the Niagara District Airport.

Tamara Lopez: So, Emily, as a Detector Dog Handler, what sorts of items are you looking for that cannot come into Canada?

Emily Rowe: So primarily in our team's profile, are odours of drugs and guns, so that's what we're looking for in this mode.

Tamara Lopez: And, Ryan, for yourself, is your dog trained in a similar background, or what is your dog trained to search for?

Ryan Gamble: Indy and myself are also at the same profile as Emily, drug and firearms. However, the CBSA does employ two other scent profiles, one being currency, and the other one being food, plant and animals.

Tamara Lopez: Okay. So there is more than one scent profile that the dogs might be trained on.

Ryan Gamble: Yeah, that's correct. Just for an operational standpoint. So for example, if myself, I refer something in, the officer knows that my dog is trained in drug and firearm, so that's what they're gonna be looking for. On the other hand, if let's say the currency dog sends in a referral, they know that they're looking for currency and the same with the food, plant and animals, it just kind of streamlines a process so the officer can focus on the task at hand.

Tamara Lopez: Okay, now you, Ryan, you mentioned that you work in an airport environment. What is that like in terms of having a Detector Dog?

Ryan Gamble: We're seeing multiple flights a day. So for example, I'm searching planes that are holding, let's say between 180 upwards to 300 people. So as you can imagine, if you're going to pick up your luggage around the carousel, it's very hectic, very busy, everyone's looking for their bag, it's very dynamic. So it's just to give you, I guess, an idea of what type of environment we're working in. But also being outside around the planes, it's very loud. There's also a lot of moving parts with the baggage handlers, running their equipment. So all of the environments at the airport are very dynamic and the dog needs to be socialised very well so that they can operate in those environments and not be distracted.

Tamara Lopez: Great point on socialisation, and I'll be sure to ask Jean about that later when it comes to the training portion. But you mentioned that you work in a baggage hall and there could be upwards of 300 people that could be a distraction for your dog. People asking questions, like, "Can I touch your puppy?" How do you keep your dog focused on the task at hand?

Ryan Gamble: Through lots of training, that's for sure, like I said, the dog needs to be used to searching around people and know that it's a part of a job, so training definitely falls into that. I definitely say it's a balance from when I first started to now.

There's always lots of people who wanna pet your dog. But the example I give, if someone goes to pet the dog, I might give them a funny look and they're a little taken aback, but I ask them a question: if this was a seeing eye dog, would you try to pet this dog? And usually their first reaction is, "Oh, no, I wouldn't." So I say there's no difference and I just continue on my way. So people, obviously, they want to pet the dogs. They're happy-go-lucky so I can see why they do it. But sometimes we would like the travellers to maybe be a little more mindful of their surroundings zone and that we have a job to perform.

Tamara Lopez: And that's great by being more mindful, an awesome scenario that you gave us there. If this was a seeing eye dog, wearing a coat, you wouldn't wanna pet that dog and so the same thing for the CBSA. These are working dogs and therefore we don't pet them.

Now, Emily, same question for you. Now you may not have the same volume of people that are experienced at an airport, but you have trucks and you have cars, so what exactly is that like in terms of keeping your dog focused?

Emily Rowe: My experience at the land border is a little bit different than Ryan's. We work primarily outdoors, so we have weather considerations. We work in the rain, we work in the snow, ice, all of those conditions. We also work inside warehouse searches and whatnot, as opposed to Ryan searching a plane or being around a carousel with maybe 300 people. The most I might see is 40-50 on a bus, but generally it's two-three people.

Paige wears a "Do Not Pet" emblem on her vest that she wears to work, so I don't really have too many issues. There are people who wanna pet the dogs, but we just ask that they kindly don't, and generally that goes off without a hitch.

Tamara Lopez: Again, same point similar to Ryan, being more mindful of your surroundings and ensuring that individuals do not pet the dogs as again, they are working dogs.

So my next question is for Jean, why does the CBSA use dogs as opposed to other animals?

Jean Brochu: The CBSA uses Detector Dogs, primarily 'cause of their natural ability and their hunting desire, contrary to other animals. They just have this natural ability coming from lineage from wolves, their primary instinct of survival. Therefore there are certain breeds that we use that have more of that than other breeds. But generally speaking dogs all have this built ability of sensing out and sniffing and being curious, some are more than others.

Tamara Lopez: And again, dogs have the most acute sense of smell, which helps them detect cargo and luggage in a non-intrusive way.

You mentioned different types of breeds. Which dogs does the CBSA use for food, plant and animal, for currency and for firearms?

Jean Brochu: Presently, the CBSA for the food, plant, animal, it's a combination of the breed Beagle cross mix, Labrador Retrievers. For the currency, well, all the breeds that I've mentioned can actually go for it. And for the drug and firearms, like the same thing. We - generally speaking, the Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, Flat Coat Retriever, Springer Spaniel.

We look at the size of the dog also. If they're working in an airport, well, they're basically searching people, so we are looking for a, maybe a higher dog, so they have access to what they're actually sniffing. If they're mostly doing people, we want a dog that's a little bit higher on its legs. If a dog's searching cargo or land border crossing, well, you might have a more compact dog like Emily's dog, and a dog that has fantastic agility to go into tight spots and tight areas underneath the beds of tractor trailers, cargo, smaller vehicles. So that's also something that we look at when we pair the dog to the Handler at his working environment.

Tamara Lopez: So, Jean, after their initial health check, as you mentioned, when does their actual training start?

Jean Brochu: Their actual training starts from the moment we go assess them and bring them to our centre. Everything that we do from that moment on, even bringing them to the vet, making them go inside a vehicle and outside a vehicle, for some dogs it's "inhabituel", they've never gotten in a vehicle. So from that moment on, the training starts and everything is based around positive reinforcement. When a dog does an action that we want, or we want that behaviour to repeat itself, well, then there's light praises and so on and so forth.

The main thing that we focus on is to develop and enhance their detection ability. Of course parallel to that there's agility. And as Emily and Ryan mentioned before, the socialisation is a big aspect of it, especially if the dog comes from a field trial breeder where the dog up to the age that it came to our training facility, only saw woods, brooks, woods and grass, and for the first time in their lives, they actually see a massive amount of people around a carousel all at once. And it's yeah, to just to make their focus on the game, regardless if somebody comes to pet them, regardless of the noise that's of their surrounding.

So all of that is done progressively. All of that is done on a Lego Block System. So when they learn something, it's embedded and they do it four out of five, five out of five, then we go to the next step and we incorporate another distraction. We incorporate another level of detection and we bring him up to when candidates like Ryan and Emily arrived at the college, and that's where the show actually happens to really pair them up with their right partner for them to last the duration of their career.

Tamara Lopez: So, Jean, a question for you in terms of training, when the dog is actually indicating on something, say an illegal firearm or a narcotic, what do they do? Do they bark? Do they jump up and down? How do they indicate?

Jean Brochu: From the early 90s, prior to the 90s, our dog reacted actively. They would actually dig and scratch. From the early 90s, we've trained our dogs to indicate passively. So once they've source the odours that they're trained on to the actual location, they will go into a sit reflex. So basically change of behaviour, source the odour, indicate where the strongest odour is coming from, and they will follow into a sit reflex.

Tamara Lopez: Okay, so they're sitting down, it's not aggressive, moving barking, jumping, it's more passive?

Jean Brochu: Passive and very friendly looking and very discrete.

Tamara Lopez: So you mentioned that you're up there training the dogs to be having more expertise in one area instead of a jack of all trades. How long does it actually take to fully train a Detector Dog?

Jean Brochu: The pre-training aspect varies anywhere from two to four months, five months. When the pre-training is done and they're ready to be put on a basic course, basic course is being a new Handler, starting their career. And there's also a replacement Handler, a Handler that's coming back for a dog when a dog is being retired out, or met for medical or performance issue. A replacement course is five weeks, and a basic course is 10 weeks.

But that being said that, it doesn't stop there. Emily works hard day and night, 24/7, 365 days a year. We see them yearly and we look and observe where they should be at, and we give them recommendation for the following year. So it's an ongoing training, it never stops. There's always something that you work on. There's always something that you need to work on for it not to fall back, and yeah.

Ryan Gamble: Yeah, I'll just add to that quickly. We get passengers that ask us all the time, "Oh are you in training?" And my answers are “I'm always training.” Career as a Dog Handler, you're in perpetual training. If you don't maintain it, it's a perishable skill and you'll lose it. So, like Jean said, that we're always training, even Handlers that have been in the field for six-seven years, you're still training.

Tamara Lopez: I see. So it's all about the qualities needed to become a Dog Handler. So Jean tell me what qualities you look for when pairing someone up to become a Dog Handler?

Jean Brochu: We actually would look for somebody that has patience, definitely somebody that has passion. And perseverance, like Ryan just mentioned, it's an ongoing training so you have to ethically impose that on yourself. Am I gonna be capable to training this partner for six, seven, eight years constantly day after day?

Even when the dog is off duty, there's things to be kept in mind, that the dog cannot play with family members, the dog cannot play with other dogs. Their focus gotta remain around work. That being said mind you, there's always that little acquaintance there every now and then with other dogs for them to be sociable around other animals and people, but they can't go on playing half a day without any observation of their Handlers being there.

So somebody that's, how can I say, wants that challenge, wants that style of living, 'cause it is a style of living. You're bringing somebody into your household, your family life, if you're married, if your partner that you have kids, there's certain guidelines that they must respect and implement at all times and keep in mind at all times.

Tamara Lopez: Ah, very interesting. So an entire lifestyle change. So, Emily, question for you. What exactly has your perspective been on becoming a Dog Handler? Did you know what it was? Did you know what to expect? Did it meet your expectations?

Emily Rowe: I came into the job with three other Dog Handlers who were in my region at the time, or at my port at the time, and I would watch them on, on almost everyday basis when I was on shift. And I thought it was magic, I thought when the dog sat, it was just perfect. And when I went to the college, I realised that no matter how hard you work, it's not always going to be perfect. And then I also realised how much effort and time the other handlers had put into that position. So it became almost immediately apparent how big of a responsibility the job of a Dog Handler was and how much effort you have to put into it day in and day out.

Tamara Lopez: So, Emily, you realise that this job is a big responsibility, detecting illegal goods coming into the country, plus taking care of a dog 24/7. So what has that adjustment been like with your family?

Emily Rowe: It was a complete change in routine at first. You're looking after the dog, morning, noon and night. If there's any medical, potential medical issues, looking after her safety, maintaining her kennel, maintaining all of those things, even after hours when you're not on shift. So it was a bit of a routine change, as well as the considerations of my children. Sort of keeping that life separate was a bit of an adjustment.

Tamara Lopez: Right, because the dog isn't considered a family pet, seeing as how it's a working dog. So you have to actually keep the two separate, correct?

Emily Rowe: That is correct. On her days off she is on days of rest and she's resting in her kennel separate from the family.

Tamara Lopez: Okay, great. So I'm gonna ask Jean a follow up, because you mentioned earlier about the socialisation of the animals, but they're not living around other animals or children in the household, for example. So why exactly is that?

Jean Brochu: The main reason why we do that is to keep their focus around the job. If something else occurs in their life that becomes more important than their detection work, then we'll see a definite decline in their performance at work. So that's generally their main reason, but that being said, they take him out for walks, they take him out for runs in the park, on when they have two, three, four days off. They let him interact with other dogs the odd time, but they gotta be pretty on the ball to notice any changes in their detection abilities, so they remain focused on their jobs.

Tamara Lopez: Okay, so they still get the same things you had mentioned like love and affection from their handlers when they're at work, but to ensure that we keep them focused on the job, we wanna keep them separate from other family members and pets, correct?

Jean Brochu: That's correct. Labrador, Retriever breeds, some of them just want love and affection, and their Handlers like Ryan and Emily must remain and be their sole source of partnership, relationship. It's a relationship like, there's a relationship in between Ryan and Indy and their relationship cannot be broken. So therefore Ryan must remain the most important thing in Indy's head.

Tamara Lopez: And that's really sweet to hear that there's a relationship or partnership or bonding that happens between the dog and their Handler.

So this question is for Ryan, what has the lifestyle change been like for you, as you had mentioned earlier that you were a bit of a perfectionist?

Ryan Gamble: Yeah, it's mostly a day to day thing that I have to remind myself of. Like I said, I'm competitive in spirit and I want to be the best and I wanna perform every time I come out, but we're trying to do a perfect job, but with an imperfect tool.

A dog is, it's a living, breathing, being that has emotions and a mind of its own. And the other hard thing about that is too, there's no way to communicate with the dog. It's not like a coworker or family member you can ask them, hey, you know, how is your day? You know, what's wrong? Why did you do this, why did you do that? With the dog it's all up to interpretation. So I think that having patience in that sense, just to know that, you gotta take things slow and to not get frustrated because the dogs, just like Jean has mentioned, you know, Indy and I have a relationship, she knows when I'm upset at her and it shows in her work, so I really need to keep that in check.

You know, whether it be at home or at work, at all times, I need to be mindful of how I'm feeling and how it can affect her.

Tamara Lopez: Right, they say dogs are really keen on picking up on people's emotions, so this is a good example of when it's important for us to be good so that the dog is good.

But I wanna learn more about the dogs, the breed, the name. So, Emily, tell me about your dog and what it's been like.

Emily Rowe: Paige is a almost five year old Labrador Retriever. She is extremely keen to do the job. She has an enormous amount of energy, which is challenging to hone that into searches and to find a balance between too much energy exertion, maybe on days off or on days of work, et cetera. She loves the ball, it's her paycheck, and that's her primary focus every day is to get that ball.

Tamara Lopez: Okay, then for yourself, Ryan, tell me a bit about your dog.

Ryan Gamble: Yeah Indy is a, she's gonna be seven in March, she's a female Yellow Lab. I've been working with her since November of 2017. Much like Emily said, Indy is a ball fanatic. When I first started, I would just have a KONG as her main reward. And I wouldn't have a rope on it, but over time, getting fingers bit, a little aggressive on the ball, I decided to go to a rope. It just saves you from little, from bruises and whatnot.

But even though she's biting me, like, she's just so possessed for that ball, that she doesn't even know that she's getting my hands. So it's nothing bad, but that's another thing that Handlers, we have to be prepared for that. Yeah, there's gonna be bumps, bruises, blood, sweat, tears, the whole nine yards.

Yeah, Indy, she's an excellent family dog. She's a few years in so she kind of knows her role. The beginning days off we're a little bit of trouble because she's always, she thinks that she's always going to work, but now she kind of knows her routine days of work and days off, so she's a little more chill her days off.

Tamara Lopez: So just as Emily had mentioned, when the dogs are on days of rest, they're actually resting, as again this is a lifestyle change that requires a new routine.

So talk to me about some challenges or successes with being a Dog Handler, Emily?

Emily Rowe: As you mentioned, just right there in the challenge department. When I mentioned about Paige's energy, one of the considerations that I have is her safety, because she'll go into any situation with all four paws, she'll jump right in. And so I have to be very careful as to what I allow her to do so that she doesn't get hurt on the job. So that's one of the main considerations that I have for her when I'm working with her.

Tamara Lopez: Of course, and for us, it's exactly the same. We put our eyes somewhere before we put our hands. So we have to take into consideration, not just the safety of ourselves, but of course the safety of the dog as well. Very important.

Ryan, talk to me about any challenges experienced as a Dog Handler.

Ryan Gamble: I think one of the biggest challenges is that when we leave the college they do a good job of kind of building us up, knocking us down, and building us up again, so that when we leave that we're full of confidence and we have the belief that we can go out and do it. But when we get back into, I guess you would call it like a live environment, it's not always the case. So a challenge would be, I guess, is like, I'll bring it back to patience, that I have none of it. It's something I've had to learn on the job on how to do, on how to get. We all wanna go super fast, but I've heard this phrase a bunch of times that, your career as a Dog Handler is a marathon and it's not a sprint. You know, don't try to do everything all at once, 'cause you're just gonna crash. So take your time, make sure you have the proper foundation on skills that you wanna work on and just take it slow and enjoy it.

Tamara Lopez: Very well said. It's not a sprint, it's a marathon, and just like any career, we don't become proficient overnight. We have to constantly learn and train to become better at our jobs.

So, Jean, a question for you, where are the names coming from for the dogs that are selected?

Jean Brochu: The names we take them with the names they got. So whatever names they have when we get 'em at six months, nine months, a year and a half, two year and a half, we take that name. Occasionally, we might change the names depending on the names that were given to them for specific reasons, but generally speaking, like the 90% of the time, the name remains as is.

Tamara Lopez: And you mentioned their age. So around what time do you actually get the dogs into the Program? How old are they?

Jean Brochu: We can get them as young as six months, seven months. It all depends on the maturity. Like humans, dogs don't all mature the same way and develop the same way, learn the same way, so some mature very quickly and some are two and a half, three years old and they're not mature at all. So like it all depends of the dog we have.

Tamara Lopez: Okay, so then also explain to me the duration of the Detector Dog's career. How long are we talking? Is it four years, is it five years?

Jean Brochu: The life of a dog, if there's no mishaps health wise and performance wise, the dog will work all the way up to the time that he's retired 10, 11, and that specific moment, the Handler will have the first choice of keeping the dog as a family dog that's now retired. Yeah and even if there's a medical or performance issue for retirement, we always let the first choice to the Handler deciding if he wants to keep it as a pet or place it in a family of his choice. Generally speaking, a family member or a very close friend.

Tamara Lopez: And that's great that you give them that option, the possibility of the dog becoming a part of the family once he retires from service. And again, the dog sees their job as fun with the dogs being well taken care of by their Handlers and the CBSA.

So, Emily, tell me one of your greatest successes with your dog.

Emily Rowe: I believe it was 2008, nope, 2019. Paige was able to find 11 guns in a rental car coming through. They were hidden in a centre console and yeah, so that was our biggest find so far.

Tamara Lopez: And that's awesome that we got all those off the streets. Paige was able to sniff that out and maybe you and I would not have been able to see it with our own eyes.

So, Ryan, talk to me about one of your successes with Indy.

Ryan Gamble: I mean the airports, it's super challenging environment, so sometimes there's a few and far between successes. But one of the ones that I had was, I think it was about, I say it's not a huge quantity, but just the method of concealing was pretty interesting. When I walked in with Indy and there was, as soon as I walked in, there was no doubt that she knew something was up and she did her thing as she was trained to do.

It's a great feeling to know that all the hard work that you've done actually pays off and you can have a nice find like that.

Tamara Lopez: And again, that's fantastic getting that off the street, something that our own eyes and noses would not have been able to sniff out. So thank you again.

And any final thoughts from you, Jean, on the Detector Dog Program and its benefits?

Jean Brochu: I think the benefits are it's the most non-intrusive tool out there amongst the other detection tools that we have, and Ryan and Emily are part of this big family coast to coast. We're out there tirelessly, and we try to give 24/7 assistance to all the officers at the Port of Entry. And I think like the Handlers put in the effort and the time and they train hard, the results are there and they make the Program shine.

Tamara Lopez: Thank you very much for that final comment, Jean. And I wanna thank all my guests for being here today, Emily, Jean and Ryan, for being on this episode of @CanBorder on the Detector Dog Program. So everyone be aware and declare.

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