i saw Jason Kenney on the CBC yesterday and he said, "No one in the media or opposition parties every suggests more security measures". That's so homey, so nice. Don't say anything if its bad.

There are 56 diseases we should check, the govt checks 2.

Post-9/11, visa officers still just 'winging' it (external - login to view)

Post-9/11, visa officers still just 'winging' it

Woefully inexperienced and lacking the information to make clear judgments, most officials are forced to rely on gut feelings, audit suggests

By Michael Den Tandt, Postmedia News November 23, 2011

:void(0);" target="_blank"> (external - login to view)

In his annual report, Canada's interim auditor-general John Wiersema finds the screening process for potential immigrants wanting.

Photograph by: Chris Wattie, Reuters, Postmedia News

There are bad people overseas bent on doing Canadians harm, security experts tell us. There's no reason to disbelieve this. We know we're on al-Qaida's short list.

This is one reason Canada has had soldiers fighting and dying in Afghanistan for a decade, correct? We've heard the argument many times: Either we fight the jihadists where they live or they'll bring the fight to us.

Federal ministers, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, rarely miss an opportunity to jog our collective elbows about the dangers of complacency and the need for vigilance. They are, after all, a law-and-order government.

Well, fine. Vigilance makes sense. But if this is true, and the government believes its own messaging, then why are Canada's overseas border offices - 10 years after 9/11 and five years after the Conservatives took power - a sieve?

Judging from the auditor-general's report released Tuesday, this description is fair. Indeed, based on the findings in chapter two, it seems miraculous good luck that foreign terrorists haven't already landed in Canada to wreak havoc, multiple times.
Memo to the Department of Foreign Affairs: Don't anyone tell Hillary Clinton.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency, with help from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the RCMP, have a tough job. They must weed out wannabe visitors who've "engaged in spying, subversion, terrorism or acts of violence," or belong to organizations that have engaged in such.

They must identify and block applicants who "have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity" or were senior members of a government guilty of such crimes. And they must spot mobsters, common criminals and people carrying infectious diseases that pose a threat to public health.

In practice, precious little spotting goes on.

Think of a needle, in a haystack. In 2010, according to government data cited by the AG, 317,000 people applied for permanent residence in Canada. Only 817 of these were rejected for health or security reasons. More than a million applied for temporary residence. An unknown number of these were rejected for health, safety or security reasons.

Here, perhaps, is why: This avalanche of cases rested on the shoulders of just 270 ofteninexperienced visa officers, aided by 1,305 locally engaged staff. They're swamped.

Why "often inexperienced?" It turns out working in immigration control isn't particularly glamorous, CBC's drama The Border notwithstanding. CBSA analysts work long hours, turnover is high, and consequently more than 40 per cent of them have less than two years' experience.

Astonishingly, the A-G found that "in the absence of a formal training program, they rely mostly on guidance material, coaching, and on-the-job training to acquire the knowledge they need to fulfil their responsibilities."

These folks are charged with keeping al-Qaida, among other nasties, out of Canada. And they're winging it?

But it gets worse. More than half the visa officers interviewed by the A-G's office - 65 per cent - said the "inability to validate applicant information was a challenge in determining admissibility." In about half the cases, officers told the auditors, they lack the information necessary to make a judgment about whether an applicant poses a security risk.

Even when a visa applicant has documents and a credible backstory, there's no way of determining, in many countries, if the documents are real. Unstated in the report, but clearly implied, is this conclusion: People get into Canada, or don't, based on someone's gut feeling.

Given this inordinate reliance on the human element, you'd expect an effective support system, to the best of the government's ability.

Wrong. Two of the three risk-screening manuals used by the CBSA are out of date, and one has not been updated since 1999, obviously before 9/11.

And there are the now-familiar problems of silo building: The partner agencies don't communicate effectively and their computer systems aren't interoperable. Medical screening is woefully out of date: C.I.C. screens visitors for tuberculosis and syphilis, as it has for the past half century. Meantime, the Public Health Agency of Canada lists 56 diseases that merit national surveillance in Canada.

Incomprehensibly, these problems aren't new: Several were identified in an audit in 2000, but weren't fixed.
The question for Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, and for the government generally, is: How, 10 years after 9/11, can this be?

If immigration security is a vital Canadian national interest, both for the sake of public safety and to preserve our preferred trading status with the United States, how can the visa system have fallen through the cracks so completely?