OTTAWA — A shortage of staff, poor practices and a lack of information means that illegal goods that should be barred from export are slipping past customs agents and leaving the country, Auditor General Michael Ferguson says.
In a report released Tuesday, Ferguson flagged problems with how the Canada Border Services Agency polices exports that could be in violation of Canadian law, either subject to sanctions or illegal goods, such as stolen vehicles and drugs.
He bluntly concluded that the border agency lacks the staffing and tools it needs to carry out enforcement priorities.
“As a result, the agency has missed opportunities to stop some goods that did not comply with Canada’s export control laws from leaving the country,” Ferguson said.
The agency relies on export declarations to flag high-risk shipments. In 2014, exporters filed 787,500 declarations electronically and another 44,000 on paper.
While border officers have had some success — preventing the export of some 700 stolen cars between April, 2013 and December, 2014, for example — about 20 per cent of shipments identified as high-risk are leaving the country without any scrutiny.
“There is a risk the agency is failing to prevent goods that contravene Canadian laws from leaving the country, due to limits on its capacity to review export declarations,” the audit report says.
That’s because the agency lacks the staff to review all the paperwork to flag potential problems and the system itself lacks the ability to automatically identify high-risk shipments, the audit probe found.
In other cases, local border officers got the information about potentially illegal shipments too late, after the cargo had been loaded on a plane or ship or left the country entirely.
Staffing woes also contribute to the weak oversight of exports in other areas too. A lack of manpower meant that no examinations at all were done of parcels destined overseas from one large, unidentified Canada Post centre.
In another port of exit, export inspections stopped when the border officer responsible for them went on vacation.
Indeed, in 2014-15, the auditor general estimates that fewer than 1 per cent of the agency’s full-time staff were dedicated to export control activities.
Ferguson’s office made six recommendations to the Canada Border Services Agency, including a suggestion to change processes to improve the vigilance of high-risk shipments and minimize gaps in its front-line surveillance.