Enforcement Flag Removal Policy Change

Many people entering Canada find themselves at customs being constantly referred to secondary examination.  There, they are often told by the Canada Border Services Agency (“CBSA“) that their referral to secondary examination was the mandatory result of an enforcement flag being on their file.

Referral to secondary examination is time consuming.  Unnecessary referrals are a burden on both travellers and CBSA.  Because of this, CBSA was traditionally quite facilitative when it came to individuals requesting that an enforcement flag on their file be removed.  As a supervisor from the CBSA explained to me in an e-mail, enforcement flag removal works as follows:

The flag removal process doesn’t delete information, it merely closes the connection between the immigration database and the integrated system on the primary inspection line on that specific client.  The process is not visible to the naked eye – I use this analogy:

You get a lamp for a wedding present from “her” mom. You hate it. It’s a motion sensor lamp and it is hardwired into the wall. You can’t get rid of it, you can’t unplug it, you can’t take the light bulb out but you want the thing to stop lighting up every time you walk by. So, you unscrew the light bulb just enough that it doesn’t make contact. It’s still there, it’s still safe but it won’t ever light up again.

That’s what the flag removal does… we leave everything in place, but alter it slightly so that when the client shows up at the primary line, his name doesn’t light up!

As evidenced from the above e-mail, individuals could traditionally  e-mail the CBSA directly to ask that the enforcement flag be removed.  The CBSA almost always responded favourably within 48 hours.   It was excellent customer service.

Unfortunately, it looks like this efficient process is ending.  Today, several lawyers, including me, received the following e-mail:

Thank you for your request for the amendment to an enforcement flag for __________.

The process for requesting this amendment is as follows:

Please proceed to a port of entry and make a request to an officer to have the flag amended on your name.  If an officer is of the opinion that a flag amendment is warranted, they can provide their recommendation along with a written justification to their supervisor. If the manager approves a flag amendment request, it will be sent to National Headquarters where a final decision to amend the enforcement flag will be made.  If approved, the flag will be de-activated and will no longer create a mandatory referral at the primary inspection line.

Please note that the determination to request a flag amendment is made at the discretion of the border services officer and cannot be guaranteed.

Thank you for contacting the Canada Border Services Agency.

This is very disheartening.

Border service officers are extremely busy.  It is very unlikely that many officers who want to help an individual remove an enforcement flag on their file will be able to take the time to make a written request to their supervisor.  The disadvantage for an officer in making a flag removal request (increased delays and a resulting increased workload for the officer’s co-workers) will almost always outweigh the benefit (that at some point in the future a different officer won’t have to deal with the unnecessary referral).  This is not speculation on my part.  Many border officers have told my clients that they should directly contact CBSA for this reason!

I simply do not understand why CBSA has removed the ability of individuals to directly contact the Department on this matter.  They have created three layers of approval to a process that traditionally required one.

The reason cannot be that CBSA was overwhelmed with enforcement flag removal requests, because the same individual at CBSA always responded within 48 hours to e-mail requests.  I also can’t imagine that it was because many requests were unfounded, because all of the enforcement flag removal requests that I submitted were promptly approved.  It can’t be cost-cutting, because someone is still checking the enforcement flag removal e-mail.  Plus, the new process places increased workload, stress, and inefficiencies at ports of entry.

For all of the above reasons, I strongly urge CBSA to reconsider this decision.  As the CBSA used to say in response to enforcement flag requests, this change is “neither a benefitl to clients or to the Canada Border Services Agency.”


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