Talking to Canada Border Service Agency (‘CBSA’) Officials

By Author: Admin | November 7, 2010

Very recently, a young Asian male was captured by CBSA authorities in Vancouver after boarding a flight from Hong Kong disguised as an elderly white man, CBSA officials say. The man changed out of his costume on the flight. The alert Air Canada staff took note and the man was pulled aside when the plane landed.

Disguise used by Foreign National Who Entered Canada seeking Refugee Status

The man has since claimed refugee protection. He was apparently quite forthcoming. From the pictures on hand, he appears to have spent a great deal of time showing the CBSA officers exactly how the costume worked. Questions abound – how did he get on the plane, why did they accept an Aeroplan card as ID, etc. I assume there will tighter security for all flying this weekend, as the industry reflexively tightens security. I will not go into greater detail on that topic. That is a subject for others.

What can this man now expect? It is lucky indeed that he landed when he did and via airplaine, and not a few months in the future, by boat. If the Bill I discussed last week had actually passed, his experience in Canada would be quite unpleasant: he would likely be detained for perhaps a year before his refugee case was heard. At present, however, he can look forward to being grilled by the CBSA officials at length. It will be an interesting meeting, especially for his legal counsel. All clients dealing with the Canadian Immigration Department, or the CBSA want something out of the Canadian government, such as a visa to live or work in Canada, or the ability to enter Canada temporarily.

The process, of interrogation (or ‘examination”, in CBSA parlance) from my experience, could be quite varied. It can be at times, humiliating or antagonistic, depending entirely on the tenor of official and the relative risk of the subject. The CBSA at the border can use intimidation as part of the arsenal to determine if the person seeking entry is telling the truth.  A CBSA officer representing Canada’s Immigration Minister at a hearing, such as at the Immigration Refugee Board is not supposed to use intimidation when cross examining a client.  However the perception of what  actually constitutes “intimidation” is in the eye of the beholder.

In the context of a hearing at the IRB, the backdrop is that the evidence given by the person seeking a visa, or seeking to avoid deportation is sworn, and recorded electronically.  Further, (outside of the Alternate Dispute Resolution process), there is a formal examination in chief, and then cross examination by the CBSA.     In this type of setting it is not coercive for the CBSA to ask a question repeatedly, since this can be seen as giving the person being questioned a further  opportunity to explain why, for example, she wants her husband to get a visa to live with her, or why she should stay in Canada despite having been convicted of a crime in Canada.  When the same question is asked at different time points in the meeting, it is because the CBSA officer is trying to see if the subject is sticking to their story. People with overly active imaginations often don’t have the best memory.

The drama of the courtroom for the client is obvious; a courtroom is not a common place for a client to be, portions of a client’s life history are being microscopically examined by a Judge and an officer at the CBSA, and the client has a big emotional investment in the outcome.  For the Canadian immigration lawyer, the drama  comes not just from the significance of the proceeding to his client, but from the twists and turns that are inherent to the answers of a client that often come out of a cross examination by the CBSA lawyer.  Sometimes the answers are unexpectedly good, and sometimes the answers are unexpectedly bad.  These unpredictable responses may make a Canadian immigration lawyer want to raises his hands in frustration (when an answer does not fit the closing submission), or lift his fist in triumph, when a client gives  a spontaneous response to a question by the CBSA lawyer that fits the argument that client deserves a visa or deserves to stay in Canada despite a conviction.

No matter how much preparation time a Canadian immigration lawyer gives to a client, there are always some unexpected questions by the CBSA lawyer representing the CBSA or Canada’s immigration department. . Herein lies the drama for the lawyer seeking to ensure a visa to Canada for a client, or seeking to avoid deportation from Canada for a client.


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I was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario Canada. I am an accomplished author and lecturer and am consulted by the media and other immigration lawyers and consultants on immigration matters and challenging immigration cases, appeals, and federal court matters.

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