Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Auditor general finds 'disturbing' flaws in visa system


The auditor general's office is expressing frustration about the way Citizenship and Immigration Canada continues to hand out visas, and is concerned about delays on drug safety at Health Canada and planned spending by National Defence.
Overall, the report released Tuesday gives a passing grade to the Conservative government on how it tracked spending for three of the programs under its $47-billion Economic Action Plan introduced in 2009, but said it's not clear how the government is going to determine the effectiveness of one of them.
The report examined the $4-billion Infrastructure Stimulus Fund, the $2-billion Knowledge Infrastructure Program and the $1-billion Community Adjustment Fund.
Interim Auditor General John Wiersema is critical about the Department of National Defence and Citizenship and Immigration Canada in his report released Tuesday.Interim Auditor General John Wiersema is critical about the Department of National Defence and Citizenship and Immigration Canada in his report released Tuesday. The Canadian Press
"For the three specific programs we audited, the government was diligent in monitoring the progress of projects and their spending," Wiersema said at a news conference in Ottawa. "It also took corrective action as required to ensure that projects were completed as intended." His audit did not include an analysis of whether the projects funded were worthy of the cash, only if the money was properly tracked by the departments spending it.
The Conservatives have touted the EAP as a successful program that created jobs, but Wiersema's report says data was collected in a number of ways by various departments, making it difficult for the government to assess how well its goals were achieved.
The government is supposed to table a report in early 2012 to summarize the overall performance of the Economic Action Plan and Wiersema said at a news conference that his understanding is that the Conservatives are going to use economic modeling to come up with figures on how many jobs were created.
He acknowledged it is a difficult task to quantify how many jobs can specifically be tied to the EAP programs and said it's too early to tell if the government's final tally will be reliable. Accuracy will depend on how the government will estimate the job creation numbers and Wiersema said his office will take a close look at that report once it is submitted but he did not commit to doing any further audits of the EAP.
"The Economic Action Plan involved $47 billion of stimulus to the economy, I think it's really important that the government follow through on its commitment to report to Parliament on the overall success of the Economic Action Plan," he said.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said in question period that the government will table a final report and he defended his government's job-creation efforts saying 600,000 net new jobs have been created since the recession hit.
Opposition parties slammed the government throughout the day on the report's findings but ministers responsible for the various departments that were the subject of audits fended off the attacks.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said he shares some of the concerns identified in the report and that his department is already implementing its recommendations.
The fall report identified a number of problems when it came to Kenney's department and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). Wiersema said they "need to do a much better job of managing the health, safety and security risks associated with issuing a visa."
Wiersema said that the system lacks even the "basic elements" for visa officers to ensure that they get the right information to make the decision on whether to let someone into the country or not.

Flaws in visa-granting system

The audit identified a number of problems: it found that many of the criteria used by visa officers to identify high-risk applicants are outdated; CBSA analysts who provide security advice to visa officers have not received the necessary training; their work is rarely reviewed; and there was no evidence that mandatory checks were completed.
"We've been reporting on some of these problems with visas for 20 years and I find it disturbing that fundamental weaknesses still exist," he said."It's time that CIC and CBSA work together to resolve them."
Wiersema said the security manuals used by visa officers when making their decisions haven't been updated since 1999. The audit also pointed out that medical screening for danger to the public has focused on syphilis and tuberculosis for the past 50 years, even though health professionals are required to monitor and report on 56 diseases.
Citizenship and Immigration has not reviewed whether visa applicants should undergo mandatory testing for some of those diseases and it also doesn't review its decisions to grant visas later to ensure the right decisions were made.
"This means that CIC and CBSA don't know if a visa was issued to someone who was in fact inadmissible," Wiersema said.
The interim auditor general was asked at his news conference whether the flaws in the system means there are people who were granted entry to Canada who should have been kept out.
"The department is not able to provide us with assurance that that's not happening," he responded.