The CBSA Databases – ICES, FOSS, CPIC, and NCIC

Meurrens LawInadmissibility

In 2013 the Federal Court released its decision in Martin-Ivie v. Canada (Attorney General), 2013 FC 772 (“Martin-Ivie“), a case which involved a Canada Border Services Agency (“CBSA“) officer who sued CBSA over what she regarded as safety issues.  The case revealed much about the operations of the CBSA at land ports of entry.  I have combined information from Martin-Ivie with what is found in the People Processing Manual and the Customs Enforcement Manual to help provide further understanding of what CBSA officers are looking at on their computers at primary inspection (“Primary“).

The Databases 

There are four databases which CBSA officers have access to at Ports of Entry.

Integrated Customs Enforcement System (“ICES”)

ICES is a national Canadian database of lookout information and enforcement activities that, amongst other things, contains information about Canadians who have come into contact with CBSA, or individuals who might seek to enter the country and might pose a risk.  In addition to traveller records, ICES contains information on customs seizures for a period of five years.   As well, ICES contains a record of every vehicle (and theoretically individual person) entry into Canada.  (Practitioners generally request copies of ICES when representing individuals in permanent resident card renewal applications.)

Field Operations Support System (“FOSS”)

FOSS is Citizenship and Immigration Canada (“CIC“) and CBSA’s shared database.  It contains millions of records about all CBSA and CIC contacts with non-Canadian citizens.  It specifically contains information on any immigration records and violations.  It is gradually being rolled into CIC’s Global Case Management System (“GCMS“).

The FOSS enforcement database includes information about previous and pending deportations, overextended stays by visitors, individuals who fail to present themselves for Immigration hearing or voluntary departures, warrants used by immigration, Interpol information on suspected and known terrorists, intelligence lookouts and individuals refused at ports of entry.  It also contains the “work in progress” or “watch for” information.

Canadian Police Information Center (“CPIC”)

CPIC is the database used by Canadian law enforcement agencies.  CPIC contains information regarding existing and expired “wants and warrants”, details of individuals who are or were wanted for some reason by a law enforcement agency, and details for whom a warrant of arrest was or is outstanding.  It also contains criminal records.

National Crime Information Center (“NCIC”)

NCIC is a database used by American law enforcement agencies. Like CPIC, NCIC contains information regarding existing and expired “wants and warrants”, details of individuals who are or were wanted for some reason by a law enforcement agency, and details or for whom a warrant of arrest was or is outstanding.  As people who have represented individuals who have been denied entry to Canadian ports of entry often discover, NCIC is often out of date.


Integrated Primary Inspection Line (“IPIL”)

Border Service Officers (“BSO“) at Primary are the first point of contact for those seeking entry to Canada.  BSOs at Primary have access to IPIL, a direct-access interface which allows officers to initiate “real time” queries against enforcement actions and lookouts in ICES and FOSS.  It also indirectly allows limited access to CPIC and NCIC.  IPIL can perform queries on travellers once their documents are scanned, or by manually entering a traveller’s last name, first name, and date of birth.

BSOs at primary are required to quickly assess whether travellers should be allowed to proceed into Canada or whether they should instead be referred to secondary for further questioning.  They rely on information contained in IPIL, as well as their observations of travellers’ behaviour.  (According to the Court in Martin-Ivie 90% of referrals – which constitute less than 5% of people who pass through Primary – are the result of suspicious behaviour.  The evidence also established that the average time taken to process a traveller at Primary is between 30 and 90 seconds.)

Unlike officers at secondary examination, officers at Primary do not have unlimited access to ICES, FOSS, CPIC, and NCIC.  The reason, according to CBSA in Martin-Ivie, is that the amount of time required to run comprehensive searches in FOSS, ICES, CPIC and NCIC is substantial.  It takes approximately two and a half to ten minutes for each search in FOSS, between approximately three to five minutes per search in CPIC and approximately three to eight minutes for each search in NCIC.  Each search must be conducted separately.  This is a large reason why secondary examination can often take so long.

Accuracy of FBI Reports

According to IRCC 2021 New York’s United States Criminality Assessment Guide, a 2013 NELP study pointed out that 50% of the records in the FBI database are missing disposition information. That means a background check can return arrests for which a person was later cleared, or charges that were later reduced. Although a 2015 study conducted by the Government Accountability Office found that the completeness of FBI records has improved, there are still gaps. Only 20 states reported that more than 75% of the records they submit to the FBI included disposition information. As well, lag times on reporting range from 1 to 555 days. As such, according to IRCC, the best source for complete records that include final dispositions is still local courthouse records.

As well, the following states do not report their data to the FBI: District of Columbia, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, Tennessee, Vermont, Maine and the Virgin Islands.