Summary – Canada Border Services Agency Audit Follow-Up

What we examined

In 2015, the then Commissioner of Official Languages published an audit report containing eight recommendations for the Canada Border Services Agency (the Agency) with respect to its obligations under the Official Languages Act (the Act). The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages followed up on these recommendations to assess the measures taken by the Agency to implement them.

Why this is important

Audit follow-ups are as important as the audits themselves. Follow-ups are used to assess the extent to which an audited institution has made the changes recommended in the audit reports, or to confirm that the institution is committed to making the changes.

What we found

The follow-up to the audit of the delivery of bilingual services to travellers by the Agency showed that although the institution has made progress in many areas where shortcomings were identified during the 2015 audit, there are still matters to be resolved. Four years later, the Agency still has some work to do on certain issues, and it will need creativity and leadership to continue to improve, as some of the measures it took did not produce the expected outcomes and there are significant systemic barriers.

Conclusion – Insufficient bilingual capacity continues to hinder the Agency’s efforts to comply with the Official Languages Act

Overall, the Agency’s insufficient bilingual capacity remains a major systemic barrier to complying with its official languages obligations and directly or indirectly affects other aspects observed during the audit follow-up. The new recruitment and training approaches are promising avenues for improving the institution’s capacity to provide service of equal quality in both official languages, but the positive impacts on the ground remain to be seen. Apart from the Agency’s bilingual capacity, the lack of a formal and anonymous monitoring mechanism is still a significant shortcoming that results in the institution’s not having the information it needs to improve its procedures for serving the public in person. Without this type of mechanism, it is very difficult for the Agency to reliably identify problem issues so that it can take appropriate action to address them.

The current Commissioner of Official Languages (the Commissioner) commends the Agency on its cooperation throughout the audit follow-up and on its genuine willingness to improve the quality of services it provides to the travelling public at airport and land-border points of entry across Canada. Unfortunately, that willingness is not always supported by actions that produce concrete outcomes. Four years after the audit was conducted by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, the Agency has gone back on some of the commitments it made during the audit, which calls into question both its commitment to improving its situation and its leadership.

In summary, the Agency has fully implemented two recommendations, partially implemented four and not implemented two. The results are disappointing, especially considering the institution’s lack of accountability with respect to the first recommendation and its lack of initiative to introduce a formal and anonymous mechanism for its services to the public. Now more than ever, the Agency’s progress will depend on how committed it is to resolving the shortcomings identified, some of which have not been properly addressed. Canadians will not be able to expect real progress until the Agency takes responsibility by committing to overcoming the remaining obstacles to its meeting its objectives under the Act.


Bilingual superintendents

  • The Agency made significant changes in language training by increasing the promotion of second-language courses among front‑line employees. Over the long term, the institution hopes that this measure will increase the pool of qualified bilingual employees who could apply for superintendent positions.
  • The Agency also developed and implemented an intensive language training program to help employees raise the level of their second language skills to BBB or CBC in less than a year. So far, the program is available to superintendents already on the job who do not have sufficient second language skills.
  • The Agency is able to monitor the number of bilingual superintendents that are needed at all designated bilingual points of entry and to determine the difference between this number and the number of bilingual superintendents actually on the job. Recent data submitted by the Agency showed that, generally speaking, the gap is getting wider, which means that the institution needs to increase its efforts to recruit and train bilingual superintendents.

Bilingual front-line officers

  • Data on border services officers hired between 2013 and 2017 showed that recruitment approaches taken by the Agency thus far have had little to no effect on the proportion of bilingual officers within the new cohorts.
  • The institution’s new recruitment strategy includes both targeted and external recruitment activities. Because bilingual people are one of the target audiences, the Agency plans to speak with members of official language minority communities to approach bilingual candidates in areas where it is harder to recruit.

Procedures for providing service to the public

  • The Agency stated that it has developed a new directive on service to the public that defines service of equal quality in both official languages; however, the directive is still in the approval stage. Given the importance of this document in ensuring service of equal quality in both official languages, the fact that it has yet to be implemented four years after the audit is a concern. Agency employees throughout the organization need to have a common understanding of their obligations, and the lack of this type of directive is an obstacle to meeting this objective.

Formal monitoring mechanism

  • The Agency reiterated the position it took during the audit, which is that a mystery traveller mechanism is not viable because of the particular challenges, including legal issues, posed by crossing the border during such an exercise.
  • The Commissioner encourages the Agency to explore other methodological options for monitoring active offer and the provision of services of equal quality in the official language of a traveller’s choice.

Language obligations in airports

  • The follow-up revealed significant shortcomings in the Agency’s process for identifying its obligations and modifying its services, as applicable. Since the audit, the Agency has gone back on its commitment to conduct an annual review of the statistical data that determines its language obligations in Canadian airports. Because these obligations vary according to each airport’s annual passenger volume, the Commissioner maintains that the Agency must take the necessary steps to monitor the data that determines its obligations in airports across Canada and adapt its procedures as necessary.

Official language minority communities

  • In addition to many regional initiatives, the Agency’s 2016–2019 action plan includes a formal process for consulting official language minority communities that takes into account their needs and any subsequent adaptation of the institution’s services. Annual communication is planned, particularly on how the institution can address their concerns.
  • The Agency assessed its programs to determine whether they needed to be adapted to meet the needs of official language minority communities. It also noted that its 2019–2022 action plan will include the implementation of a new mechanism to assess each new program to determine whether it respects the principle of substantive equality.
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