OTTAWA (Reuters) - Lax controls by border agents and police mean Canada is allowing dangerous people to enter the country, posing a risk to security and safety, a report from an official watchdog said on Tuesday.
The report by Canadian Auditor-General Michael Ferguson could cause concern in the United States, where some officials have expressed concern in the past that Canada could be the launch pad for an attack on its southern neighbor.
Ferguson said systems to collect, monitor and assess data to prevent unlawful entry often don’t work as intended. For example, airlines do not always provide enough advance information about passengers, the report said.
“As a result, some people who pose a risk to Canadians’ safety and security have succeeded in entering the country illegally,” it added.
Preventing people from sneaking into Canada has been a priority for successive governments since the Sept 11, 2001 suicide attacks in the United States.
Canada and the United States have tightened border controls, to the alarm of businesses worried about impediments to the huge trade flows between the two countries.
Ferguson said the Canada Border Services Agency has failed to keep an eye on all known high-risk travelers - including those connected to terrorism and organized crime - and did not try to monitor people who managed to slip through the system.
“The agency does not have the information it needs to know whether it is securing the border by decreasing the number of people who enter the country illegally,” he said.
The agency failed to spot 8 percent of suspicious people based on information from airlines and 15 percent of other people who had been flagged as being risks, Ferguson found.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are responsible for catching people who try to sneak across the long undefended land and water border Canada shares with the United States.
Ferguson cited sources as saying the police only detected about 50 percent of people trying to cross the border by land and 80 percent trying to gain entry over water.
Canada was embarrassed in 1999 when U.S. agents intercepted Algerian-born Ahmed Ressam at the border in Washington State with a car full of explosives he was planning to detonate at Los Angeles airport.
While living in Canada, Ressam ignored a deportation order and managed to obtain a passport by presenting a fake baptismal certificate.
In the 2011-12 fiscal year, the Canada Border Services Agency processed 98.7 million travelers at ports of entry. It denied entry to 54,000 people and intercepted another 4,000 abroad.
The Mounties intercepted an additional 1,277 people trying to enter Canada illegally.
Public Safety Minister Stephen Blaney is due to respond to the report at a news conference set for 12:30 p.m. EST (1730 GMT).
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Galloway