New border initiatives and scarcity of resources is nothing new. Way back on April 8, 1905, Frank Oliver was appointed as Minister of the Interior and Superintendent General of Indian Affairs. A position he held until 1911. His tenure saw the implementation of the Immigration Act of 1906 and the Immigration Act of 1910. Not unlike our current Immigration Protection and Refugee Act, immigration policy became more restrictive.

In 1908 in furtherance of restricting immigration and mandating greater scrutiny in admitting persons to Canada, Frank Oliver established the border inspection service at 37 points of entry along the Canada United States border in the Central Canada District, which stretched from Toronto to Sprague, Manitoba.

The budget for the service was so tight in the early years of its operation that no provision was made for office accommodation or detention facilities. Immigration officers had to take on custom and immigration duties and the work was dangerous. In one incident, Border Inspector H.G. Hebert was shot to death on a Windsor Detroit ferry by an individual who had been refused entry to Canada.[1]

It is interesting to compare the 1908 experience with the December 2003 initiative to create the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). History may record that in the early days of the CBSA the budget was so tight that they did not even have their own Minister or an Act to delineate their responsibilities. Immigration officers had to take on dual portfolios and practitioners continue to attend seminars to understand the division of duties. Years later the CBSA is clearly become more efficient in its enforcement mandate.

So we ask would Superman have gone through security checks?


Would he qualify for admission?

-Probably not

He was too young, could not speak English and had no degree.

Nevertheless, is Superman the greatest immigrant of all time?

Superman was introduced to the world in June 1938 and as the fictional story goes he came from another world and became the standard of decency and justice –a welcome immigrant to any nation. In 2006, we tend to focus upon and reward an immigration bureaucracy that locates and prevents entry to the Lex Luthors of immigrants as opposed to facilitating the Supermans of the immigrating world.

An under resourced and backlogged system that operates under global scrutiny is the reality of today’s Citizenship and Immigration Department. With over 800,000 applications in queue and roughly only 250,000 – 265,000 new immigrants admitted annually, clearly a lawyer navigating through this system is presented with many challenges. How does one then deal with such a formidable institutional bureaucracy operating under such intense scrutiny?

Understanding the Psychology of the Bureaucracy

  • Citizenship and Immigration Canada is not a private enterprise. Its rank and file are not rewarded financially or otherwise directly based upon the number of applicants that are processed. To the contrary, it is the applicant that slips through the cracks and either violates immigration policy, commits criminality or even worse, becomes involved in international terrorism that garners the most attention, albeit negative for a particular visa office. Ironically, the system is structured to assess the merits of an applicant before determining ultimate admissibility. Statutory clearances are usually conducted on the back end and can add considerably to processing time.

  • Not all immigration and enforcement officers are created equal. A bureaucracy is a collection of individuals that are at times in competition with one another, improperly motivated, and driving in different directions. Although the Department strives for consistency, as we are well aware, same cannot always be approximated especially throughout the world. It is however important to understand that the animus of such inconsistency at times is not tied to the bureaucracy but the individual.

In our post 911 world the premium is on security clearances. Start early in screening for criminality, work history, resort to social assistance and detailed profiles of family members who have dealt with CIC in the past.

Take for example an in land client. Screening should include not only the usual criminal checks but checks with social services to establish a client has not accessed these services. A detailed account of these screens should be included in your submission because it communicates to the officer you understand the psychology of an immigration file. In other words, you have not only sought to highlight your client’s strengths but you have scrutinized your client, as would the Department.


Dealing with an institutional bureaucracy without understanding the underlying psychology is an impossibility! What’s in it for them? They want their job to be made easier and to be appreciated where possible. Applications that are proactive and anticipatory, feedback that is positive as well as negative and stakeholders in the process that are inclusive, trustworthy and knowledgeable are keys in dealing with CIC and CBSA speaks in the language of benefits to all. Beyond this, where institutional entrenchment must be challenged we must be willing to accept the challenge and question perceived absolutes.

[1] Valerie Knowles, FORGING OUR LEGACY, (Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Ottawa, 2000), Chapter 3, Charting a New Course