03/07/2013 10:24 EST | Updated 05/07/2013 05:12 EDT

Border guard hung out with mob buddies, public service watchdog finds

OTTAWA - A Canadian border guard had known ties to organized crime, protected his underworld associates and used his own position to evade the law, an investigation by the federal public sector watchdog has found.

The guard's relationship with organized crime dates back to before he joined the Canada Border Services Agency, an association his supervisors have known about for at least four years, public sector integrity commissioner Mario Dion reported Thursday.

But it took someone blowing the whistle to Dion's office last year before CBSA launched an internal investigation, which ultimately led to the officer being fired.

The guard had been warned in the past about maintaining his connections to the criminal underworld, but didn't change his behaviour, Dion said in an interview after his report was tabled in the House of Commons.

"He essentially renounced his obligations and enforcement responsibilities and therefore failed to fulfil one of his core duties in maintaining safety at the border," he said.

Privacy laws prevent the guard's name from being disclosed unless it is believed to be in the public interest and Dion did not disclose it, nor did he provide any details about the criminal organization in question.

The officer was stationed at the Pigeon River crossing in Thunder Bay, Ont, where he was caught up in a drug trafficking investigation police launched there in 2010.

More than 60 people have since been arrested, including the alleged kingpin of a gang police say has been operating in the Thunder Bay area for close to a decade.

The border guard was never charged in connection with the investigation, said a spokesman for Thunder Bay police who refused to provide further details because a number of cases remain before the courts.

Dion said determining the nature of the officer's possible involvement in criminal activity was not part of his review.

"We did not discover any evidence of actual efforts to facilitate the transmission of goods," he said. "We simply were in a position to determine that on at least two occasions, this particular officer did not execute his duties as per the code of conduct."

On one occasion, the guard was at a Thunder Bay bar with two known associates of local organized crime around 2 a.m. when police arrived on the scene.

"The officer referred to above identified himself as a CBSA employee as a means to evade the law during a police operation in a local bar, which forms part of the overall finding of a serious breach of a code of conduct," the commissioner's report found.

The officer also failed to fully search individuals and cars that were supposed to be under scrutiny by border guards.

One of the people the guard refused to search was described by police as "a 'participant' in the 'number one criminal organization' in Ontario."

The officer's refusal to do the search was documented in a 2009-2010 performance review. He told investigators that since he wasn't involved in any criminal activities, he didn't see his relationship with the individuals as a problem.

Those relationships clearly posed a risk for the agency, the report said.

"The officer’s off-duty conduct and affiliation with known organized crime figures was highly inappropriate for a law enforcement officer and had the potential to harm the CBSA’s reputation," the report said.

Luc Portelance, the president of CBSA, said the agency agreed with the commissioner's findings.

"Our work is complex and we operate in an ever evolving environment where security risks are very real," Portelance said in a statement. "We are continuously bolstering our defence against challenges that could compromise the integrity of our work."

A second officer was also identified in the whistleblower's report to Dion's office, accused of threatening to tamper with evidence if asked to investigate individuals linked to organized crime.

The officer was also accused of using his corporate credit card for personal business and repaying it out of his office's hockey pool funds, but Dion's office could not substantiate those allegations.

The report is the fourth issued by Dion's office in the last year.

Prior investigations had revealed the misuse of government resources, but this was the first investigation with potential criminal implications.

Dion said the case didn't surprise him.

"We have a wide range of disclosures being made," he said.

"I was not surprised, I think it is appropriate and encouraging that the mandate given to us by the Public Service Disclosure Protection Act is so wide as to permit all kinds of allegations to be investigated."

Dion's office currently has 33 cases under investigation.

One public interest group is pressing his office to go farther and stop refusing to disclose the names of those found guilty of wrongdoing.

Democracy Watch has filed a complaint with the federal information commissioner asking her office to declare that it is always in the public interest to disclose the identify of a public servant caught breaking the rules.