Two Rising Issues in Canadian Border Security

Rising Issues in Canadian Border Security
Rising Issues in Canadian Border Security

As the world’s second largest country, Canada faces some unique border security issues in 2019. Much of Canada’s far north is lightly populated; the country’s maritime borders are vast and strewn with barren islands, and new diplomatic tensions with traditional allies have made Canada’s international relations more uncertain than they’ve been in generations. Wilfrid Laurier University’s Master of Public Safety program is dedicated to educating professionals in all types of border security to keep the country safe. 

In this week’s post, we’ll be considering two key issues in Canada’s border security. 

1. Smuggling 

What kinds of contraband are being smuggled into Canada? 

Organized crime is the primary antagonist in Canada’s efforts to prevent smuggling of contraband drugs and firearms across the border. As Public Safety Canada (PSC) has noted, no community in Canada is immune to the effects of organized crime via “victimization, higher insurance rates, fewer tax dollars to support social programs, and the eventual undermining of Canadian institutions and consumers.”[i] 

In terms of the specific contraband, several common offenses include:

  • Migrant smuggling
  • Human Trafficking
  • Marijuana grow operations
  • Firearms smuggling
  • Counterfeit goods and money
  • Motor vehicle theft 

This has both a domestic and international impact. A 2019 global study of recreational drug use found that Canadians are among the world’s top consumers of drugs like cocaine, which is cheap and plentiful on the streets. [ii] Canada has also become a waystation for drugs to enter the United States. 

Illegal Drugs 

In recent years an epidemic of drug overdoses has swept from coast to coast thanks to heavy imports of fentanyl and carfentanil. These synthetic opioids, which are often pilfered from local medical facilities or smuggled in from China, are frequently mixed with drugs like heroin and MDMA. These drugs are an order of magnitude stronger than conventional street drugs, and even a small dosage can trigger a fatal overdose. Due to an “antiquated law” (Maclean’s) that prevents RCMP officers from searching mail delivered through Canada Post, most fentanyl shipped from overseas is simply ordered from suppliers on the dark web and delivered to the dealer’s door by the crown corporation.[iii] 

Cannabis Complications 

Cannabis legalization has created its own complications at the border. While it is legal to purchase and consume cannabis products in Canada, other countries have their own laws. For this reason, it is illegal to transport cannabis across the Canadian border. This has led to issues both with illegally organized crime grow-ops, as well as everyday Canadians being confused about their legal obligations. The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is working to educate the public to prevent entanglements both domestic and abroad.[iv] 

2. Increased Refugees and Asylum Claimants 

How does Canada handle the challenges of rising numbers of refugees and asylum claimants? 

Per Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, a refugee or person in need of protection is defined as “a person in Canada who would be subjected personally to a danger of torture, a risk to their life, or a risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment if they were returned to their home country.”[v] 

In recent years, the number of self-identified refugees seeking asylum in Canada has risen from an average of 18,253 per year between 2011 and 2016 to 50,390 in 2017 and 55,035 in 2018.[vi] The causes of this sharp increase are diverse but have been consistently linked to shifting immigration policies in the United States, Canada’s primary border partner. 

It’s worth noting however that despite politicized rhetoric surrounding the issue, Canada’s current number of refugees and asylum claimants is relatively low in a global context. The United Nations High Council for Refugees (UNHCR) notes that: 

  • In 2017 the world’s refugee population increased by 2.9 million to 25.4 million in total—half of whom are children. This was the largest annual increase on record.
  • Just 0.2% of these refugees came to Canada, representing 0.13% of the nation’s population.
  • For reference, during the height of the Rohingya crisis, the city of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh (pop. 120,000), took in the equivalent of Canada’s entire annual refugee population every single day.[vii] 

Irregular Crossings 

Those seeking refugee status are not illegal immigrants according to both domestic and international law, even if they make an irregular border crossing. They are, however, expected to present themselves to authorities at a regular crossing as soon as possible. Canada’s border security agencies work closely with their American counterparts to intercept those making irregular crossings. Although there has been controversy on both sides of the border as to refugee detainment,[viii] it is important to note that CBSA’s role is supposed to be about helping to ensure asylum seekers follow appropriate legal procedures, rather than to facilitate arrest and deportation. Canada’s border control is diligently working to keep up with the rising demand in increased crossings. 

Advance in Border Control 

Modern challenges require qualified professionals. Fighting efficiency at the border is an ongoing process with complex needs. For those looking to advance their careers in public safety, Laurier offers flexible options. Aside from Laurier’s Master of Public Safety program, students can earn a Graduate Diploma in Border Strategies- 100% online. For more insight on this subject, browse previous blog posts, or contact an enrolment advisor to learn about the public safety curriculum. 



[i] Public Safety Canada. Working Together To Combat Organized Crime

[ii] National Post. Canada ranks second in the world for cocaine use

[iii] Maclean’s. For fentanyl importers, Canada Post is the shipping method of choice

[iv] Canada Border Services Agency. Cannabis (marijuana) Legalization 

[v] Government Of Canada. Citizenship Canada

[vi] Government Of Canada. Citizenship Canada

[vii] The Globe & Mail. Are Asylum Seekers Crossing Into Canada Illegally? A Look At Facts Behind the Controversy

[viii] The Star. Canada Slammed For 'culture Of Secrecy' Over Immigration Detention