Canada’s border agency ‘cancels’ arrest warrants for people it wants to deport but cannot find

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Millions of people come to Canada every year to work, study and visit. Tens of thousands more come to make asylum claims.

When their visas expire or their refugee claims are rejected, they are supposed to leave. But not everyone does.

Currently, there are more than 48,000 active arrest warrants in Canada for people wanted on immigration violations. According to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), the “vast majority” of these cases involve people wanted for deportation.

But these figures may not tell the whole story.

Global News has learned the CBSA cancels arrest warrants for failed refugee claimants and other people wanted for removal who it cannot find, even in cases where it is not clear whether a person has left Canada.

What’s more, the CBSA does not track how many warrants it cancels in cases where a person’s whereabouts are unknown.

Because the CBSA only recently started tracking people when they exit the country by land — and still doesn’t track people who leave by air — there’s no way for the government or CBSA to say for sure how many people have overstayed their welcome.

Officers told to ‘cull’ older files

Kelly Sundberg, a former border agent turned professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, says Canada has been cancelling arrest warrants for people facing deportation since before the CBSA was created in 2003.

Back in the early 2000s, when he worked at the agency that would later become the CBSA, Sundberg says he was assigned to a team in Lethbridge, Alta., tasked with “culling” old warrants for people facing deportation whose cases had been in the system for at least five years.

The protocol for cancelling a warrant, Sundberg said, involved calling known associates of the wanted person, doing internet searches and checking criminal and entry records in other countries to see if someone wanted for arrest had left Canada voluntarily.