Evidence of meeting #60 for Public Accounts in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was employees.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Michael Ferguson  Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General
John Ossowski  President, Canada Border Services Agency
Marta Morgan  Deputy Minister, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Diane Jacovella  Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development
Nicholas Swales  Principal, Office of the Auditor General
Caroline Xavier  Vice-President, Operations Branch, Canada Border Services Agency
Robert Orr  Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Michel Marcotte

4:15 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

So it's as close to a clean bill of health as they're going to get from the auditor, in the words you're saying.

4:15 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General

Michael Ferguson

I can't say that there was anything that indicated there was corruption, but whenever you have 300,000 vehicles that come across a border without the information being collected, to me that's a very serious situation.

Information was captured about the vehicles coming to the border through the automatic licence plate reader process. They know the vehicles came across, but then they didn't record the information about who was in those vehicles—which automatically begs the question, why? I think the agency needs to be in a better position to be able to answer that question.

4:15 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Very good. Thank you.

On page 13 it speaks to the superintendents, and there are some disturbing stats. First of all, 74% of superintendents responded to the survey. Given they are senior management, why wasn't it 100%, and was that a problem for you? I'm speaking to border services.

4:15 p.m.

President, Canada Border Services Agency

John Ossowski

In terms of a response rate, I understand it was a voluntary questionnaire. Yes, I would have preferred a 100% response rate, but 74% is actually pretty good for a questionnaire.

4:15 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

I don't know. I'm not so convinced about that. It's an audit report, and any superintendent not filling out information for an audit report should make alarm bells go off.

Now, 71% of those who responded said they spent less than 25% of their shifts overseeing border service officers. Not only that, 60% said they did not have enough time to supervise on-site operations. From reading the report, it seems pretty clear that much of the checks and balances on a lot of these things, the secondary eyeballs, and independent second view are by the superintendents. This seems to be a very worrying state of affairs. Can you comment on it, please?

4:15 p.m.

President, Canada Border Services Agency

John Ossowski

Mr. Chair, I would simply say that administration always has to be balanced properly with supervision. The Auditor General has made an observation on that. The superintendents have replied by saying that they would prefer to do less administration. I must admit I've heard that before in my travels, but it is important because that's how we track results and outcomes.

It's important that they also have a presence or be seen to have a presence on the front lines looking after their staff and dealing with situations as they arise. It's something that we've paid attention to, and we will look into seeing if we need to adjust the balance going forward.

4:15 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Because you're not sure?

4:15 p.m.

President, Canada Border Services Agency

John Ossowski

I think it varies from port to port and from situation to situation. I believe that we have the right number of superintendents supervising officers. Generally it's a 1:10 ratio. These are complicated environments where there's a lot of activity. They're very dynamic environments, and I think that I personally would prefer that my officers have more time with their staff and supervising them, but administration is important. I think the qualitative point here is in terms of what the right ratio is.

4:15 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Thank you.

On page 14, paragraph 3.64 from the Auditor General's report reads:

Superintendents are responsible for following up on all missed lookouts and for taking corrective action when a lookout is missed. We examined 9,082 lookouts from 1 April 2015 to 14 March 2016. We found that border services officers missed 56 lookouts and superintendents either did not follow up as required or the follow-up was not complete. Although there were few missed lookouts (0.6 percent), some involved organized crime and contraband drugs.

Notwithstanding what I consider a little bit your self-laudatory opening remarks, in which you brag about the complexity of having to deal with organized crime, one of the vulnerabilities right here of those superintendents not doing that is exactly that, organized crime.

I want to hear a little bit more about how you're going to have your superintendents wanting, willing, and able to do more of this follow-up check and balance that's not happening right now.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Christopherson.

Mr. Ossowski, very quickly.

4:15 p.m.

President, Canada Border Services Agency

John Ossowski

Yes. Thank you for the question, Mr. Chair.

Yes, we found this distressing as well. We've actually followed up—

4:15 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

It didn't read like that in your opening remarks.

4:15 p.m.

President, Canada Border Services Agency

John Ossowski

We followed up on each and every one of those ones. We've resolved to our satisfaction 43 of the 56, and we're continuing to investigate 13 more.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Thank you, Chair.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

We'll now move to Mr. Arya, please, for seven minutes.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Chandra Arya Liberal Nepean, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Immigration is, of course, our biggest workload, not only for me, but I think also for the majority of members of Parliament. I think almost two full-time staff of mine are engaged on the immigration workload.

There are complaints that there is a lot of delay or that the visa officers have not assessed things properly, but one thing I appreciate is that I have never heard a corruption charge. I really appreciate that because I have lived in several countries in different parts of the world.

I know you have 1,100 locally engaged staff. That's quite a big number of people spread across so many missions, but until now, in the 18 or 19 months since I've been elected, I have never heard a single complaint of corruption, though there's a long list of complaints that we can discuss at a later date.

Ms. Jacovella, you mentioned that you have 5,000 locally engaged staff. I understand, as I've visited several missions, that for some of the jobs, locally engaged staff are quite good because of their local knowledge, but I don't understand why IRCC should have 1,100 locally engaged staff. Is it because it's more cost-effective? Is it because Canadians don't want to go and work elsewhere?

4:20 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Marta Morgan

Mr. Chair, first of all, we have a mix of Canada-based staff and locally engaged staff. We find that that is really the most effective way for us to deliver the significant volumes of processing that we do—1.4 million temporary visas a year, a good portion of which are processed in our overseas offices.

It is more cost-effective to hire locally engaged staff in many cases. We have ways of managing the workflow so that locally engaged staff are doing part of the processing and, for the most part, though not in all cases, the decision-making functions stay with Canada-based officers.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Chandra Arya Liberal Nepean, ON

Once again, with my background I can say that there's a lot of pressure on the staff working on visas in the immigration sections in several parts of the world. There's tremendous pressure; let me put it that way.

Have you ever fired anybody on charges of corruption?

4:20 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Marta Morgan

We have in some cases, yes. Whenever we find any evidence that staff is behaving inappropriately, we investigate, and we have on occasion had to let some staff go.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Chandra Arya Liberal Nepean, ON

The Auditor General mentioned that 14 locally engaged staff had viewed their own visa records, and on at least one occasion, a similar action signalled the inappropriate sharing of other people's visa information.

Recently CRA fired an employee for improperly accessing the income tax returns of various people.

Has there been any action taken on these cases?

4:20 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Marta Morgan

Yes. Of these four—

I'll let Bob answer this.

May 29th, 2017 / 4:20 p.m.

Robert Orr Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Chair, we do take this very seriously indeed. There have been a number of investigations.

There were 14 investigations over the past year. Seven cases were identified in our domestic network, and of those, two employees received suspension; one received a five-day suspension; two employees were terminated; one investigation was unfounded; and one investigation is still open. Overseas, six locally engaged staff were terminated, and one locally engaged staff resigned.

That is just to demonstrate that we take it very seriously indeed, with zero tolerance.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Chandra Arya Liberal Nepean, ON

Thank you.

Coming to border services, you seem to disagree with the numbers provided by the Auditor General. You mentioned 38 cases. That accounts for 2% of the total number of, I guess, vehicle crossings.

If you disagree and think that 300,000 may not be appropriate, what do you think is the right number?

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Mr. Ossowski, please.