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February 17, 2020

Bill C-21 and Exit Controls

Posted by Jessica Templeman - Bellissimo Law Group PC

In December 2018, the Liberal Governments Bill C-21, An Act to Amend the Customs Act, received Royal Assent. Amendments introduced by this Act include the provision of power to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers to examine travelers on exit from Canada, as they do on entrance. CBSA officers will now specifically have the legislative power to collect basic biographic information on travellers departing from Canada by either land, air or sea. This information may be exchanged with relevant authorities from the United States of America. Basic traveller biographic data on entry at land borders will specifically be shared between these two countries, serving as both an exit record for one country and an entry record for the other. For air travel, basic exit information will be collected by CBSA from air carriers through passenger manifests. Together, these various information sources will be used to build a complete picture of the travel history for an individual.

In support of this legislation, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, the Honourable Ralph Goodale, stated:

Knowing when an individual has entered or left the country is a crucial aspect of effective border management. The Entry/Exit initiative will help us better manage our border, combat cross-border threats, ensure the integrity of our immigration system and protect our social programs—with all the robust safeguards Canadians expect.

Still, preliminary assessments of the potential negative effects of the legislative amendments introduced by Bill C-21 have been produced and disseminated by immigration counsel. These assessments have noted in particular that information gathered on exit could be used to challenge applications for renewal of permanent resident status and/or citizenship applications, based on knowledge of non-compliance with residency requirements. Permanent residents must of course be physically present in Canada for at least 730 days during a five-year period in order to maintain their status, pursuant to subsection 28(2) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. To apply for citizenship, permanent residents must demonstrate that they have been in Canada for at least 1,095 days over five years preceding their application for citizenship, pursuant to subsection 5(1) of the Citizenship Act. Bill C-21 now offers Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada the ability to seamlessly cross-check residency dates provided on the noted applications. Permanent residents will thus be required to maintain complete records of their travel; they may otherwise not only face the refusal of their application(s) but also charges of misrepresentation should they fail to provide completely accurate information.

Note that the above is just one of a multitude of concerns that have been raised by immigration practitioners regarding Bill C-21. Please stay tuned to ImmQuest, where a more in-depth piece on this topic will be published soon!