The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) introduced the pilot project in June 2017 to mitigate the number of so-called “flagpoling” cases its agents were processing at the busy Rainbow, Queenston and Peace Bridge ports of entry in Southern Ontario. The pilot was then extended in November 2017 to the Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle and Saint-Armand/Philipsburg ports of entry in Quebec.
Flagpoling is the term given to the act of physically leaving Canada via a Canada-U.S. border crossing and then turning around and re-entering the same port of entry in order to obtain or modify Canadian immigration status.
Flagpoling is popular because it is much quicker than applying to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, which can take weeks if not months to process certain permits or complete the landing procedures for permanent residence.
Under the pilot, same-day processing of flagpoling cases at the five border crossings is limited to after 8 a.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays, and only then if traffic is at a low volume and requests aren’t likely to affect wait times for other clients.
“The new operational model allows the CBSA to maintain its commitment to service excellence by providing new hours of service that allow it to effectively manage its immigration secondary wait times during high volume periods and at the same time ensure that critical resources are focused on national security and trade priorities,” CBSA spokesman Nicholas Dorion told CIC News in an email.
Dorion added that the CBSA has “no plans at this time” to expand the pilot beyond Southern Ontario and Quebec.
The pilot project has been criticized as “unlawful” by the Canadian Bar Association (CBA), which outlined its concerns in a series of letters addressed to Canada’s Immigration Minister, Ahmed Hussen, and Public Safety Minister, Ralph Goodale.
“The practice of refusing to process applications of genuine temporary residents seeking entry and the refusal to land applicants is unlawful and not in the public interest,” the CBA wrote. “We urge you to direct CBSA officers to perform their duties in accordance with the law, and ensure funds allocated to CBSA for immigration operations are used for this purpose.”
While acknowledging the CBSA’s concerns about high volume and excessive wait times, especially during the busy summer months when tourism is at its peak, the CBA said refusing flagpole services violates Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
“While a foreign national must satisfy an officer that they meet the requirements of the category for which they are seeking re-entry to Canada, they have a right to be processed at a [point of entry],” the CBA wrote.
Barbara Jo Caruso, chair of the CBA’s Immigration Law Section, said the association has amassed numerous examples of people who tried to flagpole between Friday and Monday and were told to come back on the days stipulated by the pilot — only to find it busier upon their return.
“When people show up on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, there is often a lineup as long or longer than there would have been on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday,” she told CIC News.
The association has urged the federal government to intervene and end the pilot, but so far the federal government is letting the pilot project continue.
When asked about the CBA’s contention that the pilot is unlawful, CBSA spokesman Nicholas Dorion said the agency does not respond to “third party statements.”
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