Published: September 13th 2009
Source: By Dean Beeby - Canadian Press
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Thousands of shipping containers enter Canada by rail each year
without proper checks for illegal drugs and other contraband, says a
A border screening program begun in 2000 has fallen into disrepair,
with just two officers now responsible for the vetting of some
400,000 rail cars and containers annually.
They're given almost no training, close shop on weekends, get little
support from other security officers, and have few facilities for
"The amount and level of targeting has decreased due to a lack of
resources," concludes the August 2009 review, obtained by The
Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
The screening program, known as Winfall, was begun as a pilot
project in the mid-1990s after security officials determined that
almost no rail shipments entering Canada were being inspected.
Between 1990 and 1998, customs cops seized about $5.5 billion worth
of illegal drugs in marine containers arriving at Canadian ports, or
about 60 per cent of all drugs seized by customs in that period.
Such containers also arrived at U.S. and Mexican ports and thousands
were being hauled - uninspected - into Canada by rail.
By August 2000, the federal government had turned Winfall into a
full-fledged program based in Winnipeg, drawing on internal shipping
data provided by Canadian National Railway Co. (TSX:CNR) and
Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. (TSX:CP), which together account for
more than 95 per cent of all rail traffic in Canada.
The railways deliver the data up to six days before shipments
originating in Mexico and the United States arrive in Canada,
allowing inspectors to be proactive about targeting suspect rail
cars and containers.
The rail lines are then notified of suspect shipments and place an
internal hold on the goods so they can be inspected by border
officers at rail yards.
From December 2005 to November 2006, Winfall officers were
responsible for the screening of about 45,000 containers and 344,000
rail cars. But very few drugs were ever found because the program
has been starved of resources and support.
The internal review was based on a June 8-11, 2009, visit by Canada
Border Services Agency investigators to the Winnipeg headquarters of
There they found only two officers instead of the four the program
was assigned, as the other two had been poached by other areas.
The program was operating 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, with
no after-hours and weekend coverage even though rail traffic moves
24/7. Training was virtually non-existent, with staff forced to
learn on the job.
The two officers often received little co-operation with other
sections of the Canada Border Services Agency when a rail car or
container inspection was required.
"When targets are issued for examinations, communications with the
regions are laboured and therefore the requests are often not
actioned," says one document.
And there are no formal agreements with the railways for sharing
shipping data, which is currently in an awkward format. "Extracting
information from the CN and CP systems is cumbersome and significant
time and energy is spent by the targeters searching for data."
The report's findings come as no surprise to Colin Kenny, the
Liberal-appointed senator who chairs the Senate's national security
and defence committee.
"Trains are a big black hole," Kenny said from Calgary, the latest
stop in the committee's current cross-Canada tour examining border
and airport security.
He noted American customs officials use large X-ray machines at
border points to inspect all trains arriving in the United States.
They have offered use of the machines to Canada - only to be turned
down because the border service lacks the staff.
Kenny rejected the claim that because CN and CP have their own
police, border officials need not be as vigilant with rail
"CBSA is paid to check for themselves," he said. "To simply say it's
a trusted shipper doesn't cut it for me."
A spokeswoman for the agency said the Winfall program remains under
review, with a completion date of December.
"The CBSA will examine the current complement of staff required to
conduct targeting on U.S. in-transit rail shipments," Patrizia
Giolti said in an email response to questions.
She said the program was scaled back in 2002, when a joint agreement
was signed with the United States to beef up the inspection of sea
containers arriving at U.S. ports and bound for Canada.
Since then, the focus has been on "lower risk shipments" arriving by
rail from the United States, freeing CBSA staff for other duties,
The Canada Border Services Agency currently requires air and marine
carriers to provide advance electronic information about goods
coming into Canada, to help officers select high-risk shipments for
inspection when they arrive.
That requirement is being extended to highway carriers next spring
and, in the fall of 2010 to railways, which may help resolve some
problems uncovered in the Winfall review.