Border Services
Today and Tomorrow
BY CARA PREST and DEREK MELLON
© 2006 FrontLine Security (Vol 1, No 4)

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) processes about 97 million people and a constant flow of goods worth billions of dollars each year — the value of cross-border trade with the United States alone averages $1.9 billion a day. It is a massive responsibility. The task is made all the more challenging by the current post-9/11 environment, fraught as it is with the threat of terrorism and other criminal activities.


Primary Inspection Line for vehicles crossing the border.

The juggling act of balancing security and trade at Canada’s borders requires a combination of vigilance, flexibility and innovation. It also demands sound strategies, state-of-the art technology and ­science, and a skilled and dedicated ­workforce.

Since its creation, the CBSA has based border management on three fundamental strategies. It collects advance information on who and what are coming across the border. The Agency then transforms that information into intelligence using sophisticated, world-class automated risk-analysis systems.

Finally, the CBSA expedites border clearance for low-risk people and goods with pre-approval programs such as FAST and NEXUS. All of the CBSA’s programs and activities are directly connected to these three basic strategies.

“More and more, border management operates in a global environment, where our work starts well before the physical border,” says CBSA President, Alain Jolicoeur.

Collecting Advance Information
Collecting information about cargos and people before they reach Canada’s borders is highly effective in identifying and intercepting high-risk goods and people. Through the Advance Commercial Information (ACI) program, air and marine transporters are required to transmit advance information about their ­shipments. This program provides CBSA officers with electronic pre-arrival cargo information so that they are equipped with the right information at the right time to identify health, safety and security threats related to commercial goods before they arrive in Canada.

In an effort to strengthen Canada’s security while taking into consideration the time constraints of trade, the ACI ­program will extend to the highway and rail modes of transportation.

The people side of the advance information equation is the Advance Passenger Information/Passenger Name Record (API/PNR) program. Through this program, the CBSA gathers information from airlines about passengers on their way to Canada. API/PNR is critical in identifying high-risk travellers before they arrive in Canada.

Transforming information into intelligence
To turn information into intelligence, the CBSA relies on skilled employees at home and abroad and on sophisticated systems based on science and technology. The Agency’s risk-assessment systems receive information provided by advance information programs and analyze it to identify high-risk goods and people.


Traveller uses the CANPASS Air / NEXUS Air automated kiosk.

For example, the CBSA’s National Risk Assessment Centre is a 24/7 operation with state-of-the-art technology and risk-management tools that acts as a central facilitator for the fast flow of information on high-risk travellers and goods before they arrive at the border.

Pre-approval programs
These programs benefit trade and travel by providing members with streamlined border clearance processes. Canada and the United States have developed joint pre-approval programs for people and goods crossing either country’s borders.

For example, FAST offers pre-authorized importers, carriers and commercial drivers expedited clearance for eligible goods through dedicated FAST lanes. There is also a similar program for travellers: NEXUS simplifies border crossings for pre-approved travellers entering both countries. NEXUS Air and Marine projects have been successfully tested and over 150,000 people are currently taking advantage of these programs.


Documents can be examined using a Video Spectral Comparator (VSC), coupled with video-conferencing technology. This system transmits document details from a field office to a lab.

Technological advances
Technology plays a critical role in all aspects of border security.

For example, in Canada, NEXUS Air uses innovative iris recognition biometric technology. In the blink of an eye, the sophisticated iris recognition tool can read 266 different characteristics. A traveller steps up to a small kiosk outfitted with standard video equipment. In 20 seconds or less, the tool reads all of the distinctive characteristics.

“We use technology to the maximum extent possible in keeping our borders secure,” says Mike Feniak, the director of the design and development aspects of the CBSA’s trusted traveller programs. “Iris recognition technology is the leading edge. We’re constantly exploring – we’re actually moving from single to dual iris ID, for instance – and use various technologies at the border.”

Canada leads the way in this type of biometric technology, which is currently used primarily in certain programs aimed at expediting cross-border passage for pre-approved travellers. The objective here is not only to simplify entry into Canada for lower-risk travellers, but also to free up more time to direct attention toward those who pose a higher or unknown risk.


Narcotics detection equipment - the ION Scan.

“We are increasing our use of evidence- and science-based solutions that will lead to improved border security and greater economic prosperity. We continue to make significant advancements in our use of sophisticated and automated risk-assessment systems, radiation-detection and other state-of-the art equipment, IT systems and infrastructure that will further modernize border management,” says Mr. Jolicoeur.

Partnerships and Information Sharing
The new security reality also means that border agencies, including the CBSA, must work with a variety of domestic and international partners. The Smart Border Declaration signed by Canada and the United States in 2001 and the subsequent 2005 Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America between Canada, the United States and Mexico are among the key partnerships that will shape the future of border protection.

The CBSA is also very active on the international scene, working closely with the World Customs Organization in developing principles and standards to develop and implement international security and facilitation programs.

Smart Border
The fact of the matter is that the future of border protection will rely on three key strategies and a vision.

“We are constantly investing in building a smarter, more secure and trade-­efficient border that relies on advance information, technology and risk management. We will continue to capitalize on science and technology, to share best practices, to develop joint programs and to work smarter than ever before,” says Mr. Jolicoeur. “We are getting closer to realizing our vision of a smart border and a smart organization.”  

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Cara Prest and Derek Mellon are with the Canada Border Services Agency.
© FrontLine Security 2006

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