HALIFAX - A complaints system run by the Canada Border Services Agency is documenting cases of travellers enduring rude behaviour and lengthy interrogations, as well as one case where someone was falsely identified as a person "with criminal ties."
According to quarterly reports obtained by The Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act, there were 1,105 complaints — about six per day — about the services provided by the agency's employees from Jan. 7 until the end of June last year.
A report by the agency on the revamped complaints system obtained under freedom of information legislation says .0025 per cent of all travellers complain about the service from its employees, adding "this rate will be used in future media calls as it puts the Canada Border Services Agency in a positive light."
However, a civil liberties advocate says he is concerned about the incidents that have emerged and believes it demonstrates an independent oversight agency is needed — similar to arms-length commissions that oversee the RCMP and other police agencies.
In a separate record created from its database, the agency has documented 129 cases where complaints about "employee or officer conduct" were found to be valid by internal investigators.
Esme Bailey, a spokeswoman for the agency, says that doesn't necessarily mean officers conducted themselves improperly, as there are cases where the agency ruled the officer behaved properly but there was still an unnecessary wait or delay for a traveller.
"It means the client's concerns were generally founded on some level," she wrote in an email.
One of the records says that a highway border agent accused a traveller of "being someone he's not."
Bailey says in an email the record shows the clerk's early description of the complaint and it may have been revised later.
In the email, Bailey says: "(The) client name matches one with criminal ties. (The) client is required to obtain documents from his/her local FBI office and have them present the next time he/she is seeking entry into Canada."
Another case says a traveller complained that private information was given in a public area.
Bailey says in an email that the traveller felt the officer was overly officious and rude, and the traveller was questioned in an area where others were waiting. She says the agency "apologized for the behaviour of the officer involved."
In another incident, the agency sent a refund cheque to the wrong address and it was cashed by an unknown person. When the person who was supposed to receive the cheque called the agency to complain, an agency employee "did not believe client," Bailey says.
"(The) client got upset," Bailey wrote. "(The) employee later apologized to the client directly for the misunderstanding. ... a new refund cheque was issued to the client."
There were also cases of clients upset about their interviews at border crossings.
One traveller said they'd gone through an unreasonably lengthy interview after being taken into an office for questioning. Bailey writes in an email: "the delays for the secondary examination were found to be lengthy. Therefore the allegations that the procedures were not followed properly were found to be valid."
"The client alleged it took three hours for the examination, but documentation shows that it took one hour and 12 minutes."
Bailey declined to give dates, locations or indicate what discipline officers received, citing privacy concerns.
Roch Tasse, the national co-ordinator of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, said the complaints system should be shifted to an independent agency and more complete descriptions provided to the public.
In the case of a traveller being incorrectly identified as a person with criminal ties, he asked whether further questioning could have cleared up the confusion.
"Surely there's enough information in the system, or there should be if there's not, to show you're not the same person," he said in an interview. "What are the odds that you have the same birth date, live in the same city ... I don't know why we have those incidents."
Tasse said his group's reviews of border incidents two years ago showed more serious incidents and he questions if the internal review system is effective.
"We're dealing here with an internal complaints system, not an independent body. So regardless of the content and the outcome, this is an agency investigating itself following complaints," he said.
Ronald Anglehart, the acting director of the agency's complaints unit, said the agency has made the system available on the Internet since 2011, and it is using the results to improve its performance.
He said as a result of the complaints system, the agency has developed a brochure available at ports of entry to explain why people are sometimes taken aside for questioning or inspections when crossing the border.
"We're hoping that by educating clients they'll have a greater understanding of what to expect, and that will reduce complaints," he said.
Bailey says the agency has created three training initiatives for employees to help improve their performance.
The agency, which has 5,500 uniformed officers, processed more than 90 million travellers in 2011 and the complaints total only a tiny fraction of the total, she says. The agency also says it had 217 compliments through the feedback system in 2011.
Related on HuffPost:
The Rules Have Changed
The biggest change to cross-border shopping is the increased allowances to duty-free purchases. Canadian travellers outside the country for more than 24 hours can now bring in up to $200 in goods. The previous limit was capped at $50. <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/blmurch/" target="_hplink">Photo courtesy of: Flickr/ blmurch </a>
The Rules Have Changed: Part II
As of June 1, Canadians who find themselves outside of the border for 48 hours or longer will have their allowance double from $400 to $800. The limit for travellers outside of the country for more than seven days has also changed. <a href="http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/media/facts-faits/106-eng.html" target="_hplink">Their limit has increased by $50 from $750 to $800</a>.
It's All About Timing
For those looking to capitalize on the new duty-free rules, here's some advice: plan accordingly as the new rules are still time sensitive. For example, Canadians can't claim duty-free status on any goods if their trip less than 24 hours. Also, the date you left Canada <a href="http://www.taxfreetravel.com/Canada Duty Free Exemptions" target="_hplink">doesn't count towards your trip length</a>, but the day you return can.
Personal vs Commercial Use
The duty-free status still only applies if your purchases are for personal use. That means it can be for your house, a souvenir, or anything else for your own personal enjoyment. However, if it's anything for commercial use, expect to pay full duties. Also, while you can bring back gifts for other people under your duty-free allowance, that allowance can't be shared with other people.
The Rules To Alcohol Still Apply
The rules regarding alcohol purchases outside of Canada still hold true, despite the increased in allowance. For example, you can only claim duty-free status if your trip is 48 hours or longer in length. Also worth noting is that only <strong>one</strong> of the following items can count towards your allowance: 1.14 L (40 oz.) of liquor; OR 1.5 L of wine; OR 24 X 355 ml (12 oz.) containers of beer.
Shoppers can expect to rake in many goods across the border with Canada's new rules, but certain items are still off limits. For example, certain fruits, meats and vegetables are prohibited from entering Canada as are weapons such as guns, mace, and pepper spray -- something worth noting if you find yourself at the local gun show.
The Rules To Tobacco Still Apply
Much like alcohol, the rules to tobacco are still in effect. Canadians need to be outside of the country for at least 48 hours but can bring in any of the following as part of their duty-free purchase: 200 cigarettes; 50 cigars or cigarillos; 200 tobacco sticks; and 200 g (7 oz.) of manufactured tobacco.
Ready Your Receipts
Now that the purchases have been made, all that's left is to get them back into Canada and that's where receipts come into play. Canadian Border Services Agency workers may ask for proof of any purchase and having them on hand may be the difference maker between a five-minute process and a five-hour delay. Receipts can also help verify how long your trip was based on the date of your purchases.
Don't Forget To Pack Your Goods
Canadians can now make more purchases over the border but they still need to be sure that they can bring everything back. That's because the CBSA still limits the duty-free status to goods on your possession when returning. There is one exception to this rule though: travellers gone longer than seven days can have the duty-free status apply to their <a href="http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/media/facts-faits/106-eng.html" target="_hplink">goods delivered to them via mail, courier, or by a delivery agency.</a>