One in Four Border Agents Witnessed Discrimination by Their Colleagues: Internal Report

A quarter of frontline employees surveyed at Canada’s border agency said they had witnessed first-hand a colleague discriminate against a traveler in the previous two years.

Of these respondents, 71 percent suggested that discrimination was based, in whole or in part, on travellers’ race, with just over three-quarters citing their national or ethnic origin.

The figures come from a survey conducted as part of an internal evaluation of the Canada Border Services Agency that looked at how the agency processed travelers, using a perspective of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age and mental or physical disability, and the interaction between these factors.

The agency recently posted the results of the assessment, which focused primarily on people flying to Canada, on its website.

As part of the research, 922 border services officers and superintendents were surveyed from March 2 to 22, 2020.

Of those who said they had seen a colleague discriminate, just over two in five did not report what they observed. Some mentioned fear of retaliation or simply feeling uncomfortable.

Sixteen percent of those who witnessed discrimination reported what they saw. However, some of these respondents indicated that they faced challenges in doing so or that their reports were not taken seriously or acted upon, the assessment report says.

The CBSA’s traveler processing activities do not intentionally set out to target individuals based on perceptions about their race or ethnicity, the report says. The agency uses a combination of information sources, such as global trends and reports, in developing scenarios, which are systematically reviewed for human rights and other considerations.

“However, certain practices can have unintended consequences that result in the overrepresentation of communities of color in the context of law enforcement,” the report says.

For example, when targeting rates are higher for certain origin countries, there could be unintended consequences for travelers from specific racial or ethnic groups when those groups make up a higher proportion of incoming travelers from those countries, it adds.

The reviewers found that the agency could only conduct “very limited analysis” based on travelers’ racial or ethnic identities when using operational data.

“If faced with public complaints or claims of racial discrimination, the agency cannot prove or disprove with its data whether its policies or practices discriminate against travelers, due to the complexity of this issue. If the agency were to attempt this type of analysis on in the future, you would need to consider and develop new approaches to data collection, storage and analysis.”

The CBSA Personnel Processing Manual provides staff with guidance on understanding a traveler’s culture, the prohibition of racial profiling, and services provided to persons with disabilities.

A large majority of respondents said they agree or somewhat agree that to do their jobs effectively, they need to acknowledge their personal and implicit biases.

The assessment makes several recommendations, including a call to develop and implement a plan to improve awareness and reporting of mistreatment and discrimination of travelers witnessed by border agency personnel, without fear of reprisal.

In a response included with the assessment report, the border agency agreed to design such a plan and set a timeline for implementing changes this year.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 16, 2022.

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