CBSA Greater Toronto Area Region: Operational and enforcement highlights from 2023

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) Greater Toronto Area (GTA) Region today released operational and enforcement highlights covering the period from January 1 to October 31, 2023.

The GTA Region is home to approximately 2,500 CBSA employees who support over 340 service points in Ontario. The region hosts the agency’s largest air, cargo, mail processing, and trade operations in the country and its primary point of entry, Toronto Pearson International Airport (TPIA), serves as a hub for both travellers and goods entering Canada.

Welcoming travellers into Canada

The GTA Region facilitated the arrival of over 12.8 million travellers this year, compared to 9 million travellers in 2022,  through TPIA, Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport, and Region of Waterloo International Airport. Toronto Pearson airport accounts for 96% of traveller volume in the GTA.

As part of Government of Canada’s commitment to humanitarian efforts, border services officers in the GTA Region facilitated the arrival of over 2,100 Afghan refugees and more than 24,500 Ukrainian nationals as part of the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel program.

The GTA Region Refugee Hub plays a critical role in the CBSA’s Strategy on Refugee Reform. This year, the hub expanded its program by improving its refugee processing approach with a view to streamline operations for greater efficiency. Since January 1, the hub has processed over 8,000 refugee files.

In April, the NEXUS Enrolment Centre in TPIA Terminal 1 reopened. NEXUS membership allows low-risk, pre-approved travellers from Canada and the United States to speed up their border crossings between the two countries using designated lanes, kiosks and eGates. The region has been working hard to reduce the inventory of interviews since the re-opening of air enrolment centres in April 2023. Since then, 50,163 interviews have been completed by the CBSA across the country, of which 19,000 were completed at TPIA.

The region issued over 200,000 study permits and more than 228,600 work permits, an all time high in more than a decade.

Supporting a growing economy

The GTA Region processed approximately 24% of the total CBSA commercial releases, which includes air and marine cargo.

Border services officers in the region processed:

  • 4.8 million Commercial Shipments;
  • 68 million Courier Low Value Shipments;
  • 18.3 million International Mail Shipments, which counts for 54% of all CBSA postal mail.

The regional Trade program contributes significantly to the economic stability of Canada. From January to October 2023, the program processed adjustments resulting in $202.1 million being returned to the Canadian importing community. They generated $196.6 million on behalf of the Government of Canada, and facilitated  $131.4 billion in value for duty.

One notable case involved the valuation verification of a jewelry importer. It was determined that the importer did not properly declare price adjustments and payments of imported goods into Canada. As a result of the verification, over $4 million in duties, GST and interest were assessed against the importer as well as a $500 penalty.

Protecting Canadians

The GTA Region works hard to prevent illicit drugs, firearms and illegal contraband from entering Canada.

  • The region conducted nearly 43% of all seizure enforcement actions completed by the CBSA across the country.
  • Border services officers made 9,358 seizures of suspected narcotics, weapons and other contraband as well as 559 food, plant, and animal interceptions across the greater Toronto area airport, cargo, and mail processing operations. 
  • The interdiction of illicit narcotics is a CBSA enforcement priority and the GTA Region continues to thwart the smuggling attempts of criminal organizations. Between January 1 and October 31, there were over 3,000 seizures of various kinds of narcotics. 

Firearms

The smuggling of prohibited and restricted firearms and weapons is a serious criminal offence. This year, 49 firearms, 842 replica firearms, 63 firearm parts, and over 6,200 prohibited weapons were seized in the region.

A significant seizure made by CBSA’s Ontario Firearms Smuggling Enforcement Team (OFSET) occurred in the spring of 2023. The CBSA OFSET is a group of Intelligence Analysts, Intelligence Officers, and Criminal Investigators who conduct complex firearms smuggling investigations throughout Ontario. In March 2023, OFSET investigators linked the seizure of a package containing a prohibited weapon to two previous seizures which involved a package containing prohibited weapons, and a package containing counterfeit law enforcement paraphernalia and logos. All intercepted packages were destined for a residence in Vaughan, Ontario.

In May, the OFSET executed a search warrant at the residence in Vaughan. During the search, investigators discovered and seized numerous police marked paraphernalia, one restricted firearm that had been reported as stolen, four prohibited firearms, six replica firearms, over 70 rounds of ammunition, five magazines, stun guns, and other weapons, as well as over 30 grams of cocaine and over $60,000 in counterfeit currency. The individual was arrested by the OFSET and 29 charges were laid under the Customs Act, Criminal Code of Canada and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

In the spring of 2023, the team at the regional mail processing centre dedicated resources to a firearms interdiction initiative entitled Project Iceberg. The project was very successful, resulting in the seizure of five complete semi-automatic handguns, 52 seizures of firearm parts, 15 items refused entry, and 67 reports completed that assist in feeding the intelligence cycle.

Narcotics

In April, the regional intelligence and investigations team participated in an international investigation that led to the arrest of a Mississauga, Ontario resident for selling “suicide kits,” which included the substance Sodium Nitrate/Nitrite. Thousands of these kits were sent worldwide, many to residential addresses. Regional Intelligence provided importer information to local police services across Canada, completing multiple proactive disclosures. Thanks to these disclosures, law enforcement partners were able to conduct wellness checks based on the information provided by the CBSA, and reach vulnerable persons throughout Canada. Work continues on this case.

Between the months of June and July 2023, the CBSA at TPIA commercial intercepted over 3.3 tonnes of PMK ethyl glycidate and 1,4-Butanediol arriving from Asia. These chemicals are used to manufacture MDMA (ecstasy) and drugs used to commit physical and sexual assault, which are part of a group of psychoactive drugs. They act on the central nervous system and can cause changes in mood, awareness, and behavior. The substances were found in multiple separate shipments that were selected for examination by GTA Region border services officers. The interception of these chemicals prevented millions of doses of MDMA and drugs used to commit physical and sexual assault from reaching Canadian communities. 

Other examples of notable seizures that took place during this period include:

  • officers at TPIA seized approximately $4.8 million worth of heroin found in a suitcase
  • again at TPIA, officers seized $1.7 million worth of cocaine located in suitcases with false linings
  • officers working in the commercial stream at TPIA seized more than $2.3 million worth of suspected ketamine concealed in the false bottom of an exhaust fan

Currency

CBSA officers are diligent in detecting smugglers who attempt to bring undeclared currency band into Canada. Under the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act, there are no restrictions on the amount of money that can be brought in or taken out of Canada, but currency and monetary instruments of $10,000 or more must be reported. Failure to do so can result in seizure or the assessment of a civil penalty ranging from $200 to $5,000.

Between January 1 and October 31, GTA Region officers seized over $5.3 million.

In April, officers intercepted an outbound currency shipment of $39,000. The currency was identified as potential proceeds of crime and later confirmed to be the result of an attempted senior fraud. This interception resulted in the return of the funds to the rightful owner.

Tobacco

In May, the regional internal services team collaborated with the provincial government to facilitate information sharing about the illicit movement of tobacco within the province. Tobacco is commonly used for trade-based money laundering and to fund various illegal activities such as weapon, drug, and human trafficking. This collaboration will help disrupt organized crime networks and individuals involved in illegal activities by curbing the supply of tobacco products that do not comply with provincial and federal laws.

Collaborating with Indigenous communities

Repatriation support is one of the many ways the GTA Region has been building meaningful connections with Indigenous communities and furthering reconciliation efforts. In the summer, The GTA Regional Indigenous Affairs Advisor (RIAA) liaised with the Atlantic RIAA to provide frontline support and facilitation for the Millbrook First Nation, aiding in the repatriation of several sacred items which had been housed in Australia for over a century. In the fall, the GTA RIAA worked with the Pacific RIAA and the K’omoks First Nation to assist in the repatriation of human ancestral remains from a museum in Scotland, which were being escorted through TPIA on route to their rightful home on Vancouver Island.

The GTA RIAA attended various community and cultural events during the year, including pow wows throughout the region and meetings with Indigenous Education sectors of regional school boards. They travelled to Halifax, NS during the summer to represent the GTA in the North American Indigenous Games; and in the fall, the RIAA attended the Indigenous Services Canada Ontario Region Joint Gathering in Toronto to engage with Indigenous public services and community leaders.

The RIAA also spent the year visiting several ports of entry, providing Sacred Bundle Training to new and established employees, focusing on cultural awareness, reconciliation, and Indigenous centered learning to support frontline interactions with Indigenous travellers.

In acknowledgement of The National Day of Awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2Spirit People on May 5, the RIAA and members of the CBSA Indigenous Employee Circle collaborated with Moon Time Sisters, an Indigenous led charity organization, to spread awareness about the resource disparity in Indigenous communities while raising funds and collecting donations.

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