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.
While the process is a bit more cumbersome than before, it is still possible to request that an enforcement flag be removed before an individual attempts to enter Canada.
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).
As an aside, considering that an individual border officer has the ability to deny someone entry to Canada, it is surprising that they don’t have the ability to quickly remove an enforcement flag.