Border agency audit uncovers shoddy screening of incoming rail shipments


OTTAWA, Ontario—An internal audit has uncovered numerous gaps in the federal border agency’s efforts to prevent dangerous cargo and people from entering Canada aboard freight trains.

The Canada Border Services Agency review found inadequate managerial oversight, a lack of timely information on which to base decisions and shoddy targeting of incoming rail shipments for scrutiny.

The auditors made several recommendations to remedy the shortcomings, all of which were accepted by the border services agency.

“Improved strategic direction, infrastructure, information for decision-makers and targeting would help reduce the risk of non-compliant goods and/or inadmissible individuals from entering Canada through the commercial rail mode,” says the newly released audit report, completed in December.

Rail shipments worth tens of billions of dollars—everything from auto parts to fertilizer—arrive annually through 27 entry points.

Many details of the risks and problems in managing the huge flow—and what the border agency was doing to address them—were considered too sensitive to make public.

For instance, figures on border agency examinations of rail shipments over the last three years were stripped from the report prior to release.

The auditors found there were structures in place to manage the border agency’s commercial rail program. However, there had been “minimal discussion, strategic direction, analysis and oversight of the commercial rail mode at key agency oversight committees.”

A 2012-13 national border risk assessment included short- and long-term solutions but there is “no evidence” the plan was ever approved by senior management, the audit report says.

The border agency is supposed to use advance information to identify high-risk people and goods that might endanger national security or public safety if allowed entry to Canada.

The targeting process begins with a review of the data provided by the rail carriers, including destination province and city, the origin state and city, and a description of the goods, the report says.

Although targeting activities were carried out, there was “no evidence of a documented methodology” in the form of policies, procedures or guidance documents.

Cargo examinations in rail yards can be dangerous due to the movement of locomotives and freight cars.

While the border agency provides mandatory health and safety training to all employees, it had not developed training programs specific to rail yard examinations or health and safety awareness in this mode, the report says.

The Railway Association of Canada, which represents more than 50 freight and passenger railway companies, has no comment on the audit findings, said spokesman Alex Paterson.

Esme Bailey, a border agency spokeswoman, said the agency was taking steps to implement the audit recommendations by:

—Renewing its focus on rail through internal committees and outside forums where it engages with rail industry partners;

—Identifying the highest risks to the commercial rail mode by early summer;

—Developing management controls, to be fully in place by December of next year, to address risk assessment and targeting, examination processes, security and regular monitoring.