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Key issues: Ministerial transition 2023

Immigration detention


The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) administers the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which allows for the arrest and detention of foreign nationals and permanent residents. Detention is a measure of last resort where the individual may present a danger to the public, is a flight risk, or, where their identity has not been established (and therefore a security check cannot be performed). While the majority of individuals are being managed outside of physical detention facilities (for example, through electronic monitoring), there is significant and ongoing stakeholder opposition to detention.

Immigration detention is governed by the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Canada's immigration detention framework is based on the principle that detention shall be used only as a measure of last resort, where an individual is: a danger to the public; unable to satisfy the officer of their identity or; unlikely to appear for an immigration proceeding. The recommendation to detain an individual is made by the CBSA. Within the first 48 hours, the recommendation is subject to a review by the Immigration and Refugee Board, an independent administrative tribunal. If the Immigration and Refugee Board determines that detention should be continued, the reasons for continued detention are reviewed within seven days and every 30 days thereafter. At the detention review, the Immigration and Refugee Board makes a decision as to whether detention is warranted and takes into consideration alternatives to detention.

The CBSA manages three immigration holding centres – a leased facility in Toronto, a facility it owns in Surrey and a brand new facility in Laval. These centres are designed and staffed to manage lower risk detainees. CBSA has relied on provincial facilities to detain higher risk individuals (that is, those that present a risk to the public, other detainees and/or CBSA staff).

Current status

Starting in 2016, the CBSA has implemented a new detention framework that has significantly changed the way in which the program is managed. For example, the use of alternatives to detention was expanded significantly, both in terms of numbers and types (for example, electronic monitoring, telephone reporting, community case management and supervision). Additional changes included an expansion of medical services to address increased needs within the immigration holding centres, and strengthened national detention standards to ensure that conditions of detention align with national and international guidelines on detention. As a result of the framework, of the individuals who are subject to immigration controls, as of , there are some 12,500 (almost 98% of the total) being managed through alternatives to detention; 212 (1.5% of the total) are being detained in immigration holding centres; and only 66 (0.5% of the total) are being detained in provincial correctional facilities.

Over the last year, all provinces, with the exception of Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island have given their one year notice to cease housing immigration detainees on behalf of the CBSA. The end dates of their involvement in immigration detention will be staggered over the course of the next year. Alberta was set to be the first province to terminate their agreement on but agreed to a three month extension. British Columbia also agreed to extend its timeline from to . In both cases, the province indicated they would not take any new detainees, regardless of whether there was a high risk immigration detainee within their jurisdiction. This decision by provinces was taken despite knowing that CBSA does not have the infrastructure in place to safely assume responsibility for these individuals.

Human rights and refugee advocacy groups have long held the view that provincial correctional facilities are not a suitable environment in which to detain immigrants. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are two organization that have lobbied provincial governments to discontinue the practice of housing immigration detainees in provincial detention facilities. With the termination of provincial agreements, these same organizations are expected to continue to seek to end immigration detention as a whole (that is, in CBSA facilities as well).

The CBSA assesses that it will need capacity to house approximately 150 to 200 higher risk individuals by fall 2024. While the proportion of higher risk individuals is not expected to increase, the actual numbers will given the overall increase in regular and irregular migrants entering Canada.

In light of provincial decisions, CBSA is implementing an emergency plan to be ready to house a number higher risk individuals in a safe and secure manner by fall 2023. Specifically, efforts are focused on making physical, operational and staffing changes at the Laval Immigration Holding Centre in order to be able to house up to 48 higher risk detainees by . In the medium term, the CBSA is assessing various options to secure additional capacity to house all higher risk individuals, notably by the time the agreements with Quebec and Ontario expire.

Next steps

Medium and longer term options will require new funding and will be the subject of an early briefing.

Immigration and asylum


As Minister of Public Safety, you have important responsibilities for policy and administration pursuant to subsection 4(2) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. This includes responsibilities for port of entry examinations; enforcement of the act; and policies respecting enforcement and inadmissibility on the grounds of security, sanctions, organized criminality, and violating international / human rights. Should Bill C-21 (related to firearms reforms) come into force, you will also have policy responsibility for transborder criminal inadmissibility.

Your officials work on a daily basis with counterparts at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to ensure policies strike an appropriate balance between facilitation of migration and visitors to Canada and the checks and controls that protect public safety and the integrity of Canada's borders.

It is important that you establish early and ongoing dialogue with your colleague, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship as the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act confers specific authorities upon each of you. As such, decisions made by the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship often have an impact on the CBSA's operations, both at ports of entry and inland, in the context of traveller process, business facilitation and the identification and removal of inadmissible persons.

Current status

The border control continuum

Canada has a longstanding approach of maintaining public safety, national security and the management of our ports of entry by pushing the border out, which consists of identifying and stopping threats and inadmissible persons at the earliest opportunity in the travel continuum. Examples of CBSA and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada programs that have pushed the border out include the imposition of visa requirements, information sharing with the United States, pre-arrival screening programs such as Electronic Travel Authorization and Interactive Advance Passenger Information, scenario based targeting, overseas liaison officer capacity, the Entry/Exit system, and the Safe Third Country Agreement and its recent Additional Protocol. Preventing inadmissible persons from travelling to Canada, or from entering at a port of entry, is more effective than resolving these cases within the country given the time and cost of hearings, detentions, appeals and removals.

An effective multiple borders strategy supports the CBSA's capacity to manage volumes at ports of entry and minimizes the risk of inadmissible persons gaining access to Canada, thereby reducing the need for time consuming and costly hearings, detentions and removals processes. It also provides facilitation benefits to the travelling public and the transportation industry and supply chain, thereby supporting Canada's economy, international trade and tourism.


Canada's immigration policy seeks to balance facilitation with enforcement. The CBSA has a role to play in both aspects. In 2019 to 2020, the CBSA processed over 94 million travellers at our ports of entry. In addition, the agency issued approximately 500,000 work and study permits, over 300,000 permanent resident landings.

Post pandemic travel volumes are expected to continue to increase and exceed pre-pandemic levels. Canada is also welcoming a record number of permanent residents and seeking to be a destination of choice for international students and foreign workers. As a result, pressure on Canada's ports of entry will continue to grow. It will be important to work with your colleague, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, to consider immigration service delivery at ports of entry and within Canada to ensure the right service channels are in place for clients where they need them and provided in a cost effective way.

While the vast majority of foreign nationals and permanent residents are low risk, and comply with Canada's immigration laws, immigration enforcement and identifying persons who are inadmissible are critical to the integrity of the immigration system. In 2019 to 2020, the CBSA conducted over 11,000 removals. As international travel and tourism returns to and exceeds pre-pandemic levels, in addition to the expected growth in immigration levels, asylum claimants and international workers and students destined for Canada, there will be a commensurate increase in inadmissible persons who must depart from the country voluntarily or be subject to enforced removal by the CBSA. The agency has a legal obligation to ensure that inadmissible persons are removed from Canada as soon as possible.

Your inadmissibility-related role also includes considering applications for Ministerial Relief from the above-noted serious inadmissibility grounds for which you have policy responsibilities. Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada officials also assess the serious inadmissibility grounds for which you are responsible, in the context of visa processing overseas taking into account security screening recommendations from the CBSA. Interdepartmental coordination, and Ministerial engagement in the area of inadmissibility policy and related facilitation initiatives is important to ensure that the inadmissibility provisions for which you are responsible are consistently and transparently applied across the travel continuum.

Asylum program

The number of migrants around the globe has increased from approximately 155 million people in 2000 to 258 million people in recent years and continues to rise. Since 2015, Canada has seen a nearly 400% increase in asylum claims, with over 90,000 claims processed (including over 39,000 irregular migrants) last year alone. This is over and above the half a million permanent residents expected to come to Canada. Budget 2022 provided IRCC, the CBSA and other federal partners with $1.3 billion over five years to permanently fund the processing of 50,000 claims a year. Additional funding and reforms are anticipated to be required for all partners to keep pace with the increased demands of Canada's asylum system.

The in-Canada asylum system offers refugee protection to people in Canada who fear persecution or would face risk to their life, or be in danger of torture or other cruel and unusual treatment or punishment if they had to leave Canada. The CBSA has several responsibilities in this program, including the processing of refugee claim at ports of entry, investigating potential inadmissibility and grounds for exclusion from protection, representing the Minister at related hearings, and ensuring the timely removal of failed claimants from Canada. The agency also administers the Safe Third Country Agreement at ports of entry, and investigates irregular migrants who may not comply with the Additional Protocol.

Next steps

As the Minister of Public Safety, your role in the integrity and efficient functioning of the border and the immigration system more broadly is multifaceted. Your authorities in this regard are contained primarily in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, legislation that is shared with the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. CBSA looks forward to briefing you on these authorities at your convenience.



The ArriveCAN mobile application, which launched on , was developed by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) at the request of the Public Health Agency of Canada to replace manual, paper-based collection of public health information at the border. ArriveCAN simplified border processing by facilitating the provision of health information directly to provinces and territories, allowing the Public Health Agency of Canada to enforce quarantine in a timely manner, and minimizing the need for physical contact between travellers and Border Services Officers.

Digital submissions were made mandatory in 2021 for all travellers under the Orders in Council, regardless of vaccination status, with limited exceptions. ArriveCAN helped protect the health and safety of travellers, expedited processing at the border, and prevented fraud by verifying proofs of vaccination. The mobile application was downloaded more than 18 million times and was used by more than 60 million travellers. Costs were less than $1 per traveller passage. The use of the app became voluntary when COVID-19 border measures and travel requirements were lifted in October, 2022.

Current status

A mobile and web-based platform that supports the capture of travellers entering Canada is an integral component of the CBSA's vision to deliver a modern border experience. Prior to the pandemic, the CBSA was on the path to develop digital self-processing tools that would form the foundation of its Traveller Modernization Initiative.

The implementation of ArriveCAN during the pandemic has enabled the CBSA to introduce a voluntary feature in ArriveCAN ahead of schedule; the Advance Declaration, which was integrated into ArriveCAN in . The optional Advance Declaration allows travellers to make their customs and immigration declaration up to 72 hours before flying into one of Canada's ten participating airports.

As of the Advance Declaration feature has been used over 4.5 million times. Early usage data shows that using the optional Advance Declaration reduces the amount of time a traveller spends at a Primary Inspection kiosk or gate by roughly one third. With the thousands of travellers that fly into Canada each day, the Advance Declaration feature has the potential of saving hundreds of hours of processing time.

Next steps

The CBSA continues to support the Office of the Auditor General in their performance Audit of the ArriveCAN Application, including the procurement of contract and services, which is scheduled for tabling in fall 2023.

CBSA Assessment and Revenue Management (CARM) Project


The CBSA is in the process of replacing the mainframe system that manages commercial importations into Canada, a system that controls some $750 billion in trade and over $30 billion in annual revenue. It is the largest IT project being managed at the agency.

Current status

CARM fundamentally allows the CBSA to redefine CBSA's relationship with customs brokers, importers, and other trade chain partners while increasing CBSA's use of data analytics.

CARM aims to:

  • reduce administrative burdens for importers and other trade chain partners by allowing them to process transactions in a paperless environment
  • increase Government of Canada revenues through the consistent assessment of duties and tax
  • decrease the CBSA's processing times at the pre-arrival, accounting, and post-accounting phases of commercial goods importation

CARM is being deployed in three releases of increasing complexity and scope, of which two have already been implemented:

  • Release 0 (deployed ) set the foundation for CARM by deploying our Accounts Receivable Ledger into the Cloud and enhancing performance of many of the transactions/reports
  • Release 1 (deployed ) included the first stakeholder-focused changes: the introduction of the external CARM Client Portal for importers and customs brokers, and the internal user portal for CBSA employees
  • Release 2 – will simplify the importing process and allow Canadian businesses to process transactions online

Next steps

In order to deploy Release 2 and have CARM serve as the official system of record, amendments to the Customs Act and several existing regulations are required to: support electronic communication and payments, allow for the provision of financial security electronically, and implement simplified billing cycles. New Financial Security (Electronic Means) Regulations are also being proposed to establish the conditions for the use and confirmation of electronic forms of financial security. These changes are expected to come into force on the same day Release 2 is launched.

The proposed regulatory approach for CARM was published in the Canada Gazette, Part 1, Volume 156, Number 48: Regulations Amending Certain Regulations Administered and Enforced by the Canada Border Services Agency and public information on the next release, including a planned released date of , is available on the CARM website.

The CBSA continues to engage with the customs broker/importer community who are requesting lead time between the publication of the final regulations in Canada Gazette II and a system "go live" date. CBSA officials at all levels continue to engage with individual businesses and stakeholders on aspects of the proposed system change and/or the regulatory tightening.

In early calls and engagements, stakeholders may engage you on the system changes and timing. You may wish to say:

  • CBSA officials at the most senior level are fully engaged with businesses most implicated by these changes
  • It's an important project, worth taking the time to get right
  • CBSA Executive Vice-President Ted Gallivan is your contact for questions or more information

Traveller modernization


Traveller Modernization is a major, multi-year CBSA initiative that will transform how low-risk travellers are processed when entering Canada. It received $337.6 million in Budget 2021 for a 7-year project beginning in 2022. It includes new administrative processes, new technologies for travellers and border services officers, as well as changes to legislative and regulatory authorities that will afford the agency greater operational flexibility in the delivery of border services.

Current status

Traveller Modernization aims to shift the agency's approach to processing travellers away from high-touch, in-person, transactions towards digital, self-service processing through two major project components:

Digital Traveller Experience project: Enhancements to ArriveCAN that will allow travellers, on a voluntary basis, to meet most of their border-related obligations prior to their arrival at the border. These self-service options will improve the border experience for those preferring low-touch service options and will also afford the agency greater flexibility in the provision of services, including remote locations.

Office Experience project: A new traveller processing system for Border Services Officers that will improve the officer experience and support their decision-making through the consolidation of multiple aging systems.

Although work on the Digital Traveller Experience and Office Experience components is in the initial stages, the CBSA has advanced work on some of the needed foundational pieces of Traveller Modernization. For example, the Advance CBSA Declaration, a feature in ArriveCAN that allows travellers the option to submit their customs declaration up to 72 hours in advance of arrival, has been implemented at the 10 largest international airports. For the 12% of travellers using the Advance CBSA Declaration, the time savings is approximately 40 seconds per traveller, which adds up to significant wait time savings during our busiest periods. Further, the enabling legislative amendments for Traveller Modernization which allow travellers to present themselves to CBSA via modern technologies received Royal Assent on .

Traveller Modernization will allow the CBSA to expand on current successes, while continuing to respect federal privacy legislation and standards. It represents an opportunity for the CBSA to align Canada's border processes with initiatives led by other government departments, industries, and international partners. Finally, it positions the CBSA to manage actual and projected increases in volumes over the coming years.

Next steps

Your approval will be sought as required for authorities, funding, and regulatory changes.

CBSA will engage publicly on Traveller Modernization – both end users with a view to usability and civil society on broader issues of privacy and use of technology at the border.

CBSA will continue to work with partner departments and international partners to ensure we develop and implement interoperable solutions and remain mindful of the end user experience.

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