A Canada Border Service Agency employee opened himself up to the threat of exploitation by “hostile intelligence services” after visiting massage parlours in China, Japan and Canada, documents obtained by CBC News reveal.
The case is just one of more than 500 allegations the CBSA deemed “founded” last year and released as part of an access to information request.
According to the redacted file, the employee — who is not named in the document — allegedly engaged in illegal activities “by purchasing sexual services from massage parlours in Japan, China and Canada.”
“By doing so, he failed to uphold public confidence and these actions conflicted with his official duties,” says the document.
“It is alleged that the employee knowingly exposed himself to exploitation by hostile intelligence services and criminal organizations, creating a risk to the agency by purchasing sexual services.”
The employee is also accused of violating the law when he purchased sexual services.
The document says the CBSA deemed all of the allegations founded. That means internal investigators concluded that aspects of the case were valid.
CBSA spokesperson Karine Martel said the employee — who worked at the CBSA’s national headquarters — received a five day suspension “following thorough consideration of the associated mitigating and aggravating factors.”
“[CBSA employees] are expected to ensure that their comments and behaviour, both in their personal and public lives, do not impair, or are not perceived as impairing, their ability to perform their duties in an impartial manner as public servants,” said Martel.
“This is to ensure they do not undermine or compromise the integrity or security of CBSA operations, its employees, or national security; conflict with their ability to carry out their duties; or impair the ability of the CBSA to carry out its mandate.”
CSIS warns of ‘honey traps’
Canada’s intelligence agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), has warned government officials and business travellers that some foreign states will pounce on any opportunities for blackmail.
“Sexual entrapment, colloquially known as the ‘honey trap,’ refers to the use of an attractive individual — informed by your sexual identity and preferences — to seduce you and get you in a compromising position, or one where you could be blackmailed,” reads a 2020 CSIS document.
“Honey traps often involve the clandestine recording of an intimate encounter. These recordings are either used to blackmail or publicly embarrass the victim.”
Martel said all CBSA employees must take mandatory security awareness training, which includes “information on methods and venues used by threat agents to elicit or cultivate associations with government officials.”
Officers posted abroad are also expected to take additional training, including a personal security seminar delivered by Global Affairs Canada.
Dennis Molinaro, a former national security analyst, said the CBSA stores intelligence that China, and other foreign countries, would be interested in obtaining.
“[The CBSA has] access to intelligence across the federal government,” he said.
“In addition to that, they have access to information on border controls, all kinds of information that China might be interested in, even criminal investigations, any kind of border policies or restrictions, especially when it comes to exports and imports of certain materials.”
Molinaro said sexual entrapment is a well-known tactic that has been used by many states, including China, since before the Cold War.
He said the security training CBSA employees are required to undergo is based on actual actions by foreign powers, and the agency has to take the threat seriously.
“The training and the briefing and the advice and all these things, they come from somewhere, and where they come from is from adversaries actually doing these things,” he said.
“They’re not just made up by other people in intelligence. They happen.”
CBSA missed an ‘armed and dangerous’ alert
The misconduct files released to CBC News cover a period from Jan. 1, 2022 to mid-January 2023. (Not all of the cases actually happened in that year but that’s when the investigations were concluded.)
Some of the most common misconduct cases investigated over that year involved CBSA officers failing to act on intelligence reports, referred to as “lookouts.”
“A lookout is reliable, accurate and actionable intelligence on actual or suspected infractions or criminal activities that may result in the interception of inadmissible people,” says the CBSA website.
“A lookout ‘hit’ will ‘flag’ or identify particular individuals, including corporations, and specific goods, conveyances or shipments.”
The CBSA says lookouts are electronic files and a “hit” requires a mandatory referral to a secondary examination.
In one case reported by the CBSA to CBC News, a border officer in the southern Ontario region sent a vehicle through the border without checking the CBSA’s database.
The CBSA said the vehicle later turned out to be the subject of a lookout regarding an “armed and dangerous” individual, said the CBSA.
That officer was suspended for a day.
In another case, a lookout on child exploitation was missed, according to the CBSA.
Customs and Immigration Union president Mark Weber said a border officer might miss a lookout for one of a number of reasons.
“You don’t want any of them to be mishandled or missed,” he said. “There’s been issues with the computer system in the past. We have the constant issue of understaffing … With the total volume that you’re dealing with, I mean, you work at places, busy airports, where you’re dealing with hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of people a day.”
Union asking for more workers to ease burden
Weber said CBSA employees are also under pressure to keep the lines moving.
“If you sent in every car that was referred into secondary [inspection], you’d almost shut the port down,” he said.
Weber said borders, ports and airports need about 2,000 to 3,000 more officers to prevent errors.
According to the misconduct document, several CBSA employees across the country were also disciplined for racist remarks and sexual harassment. One officer was fired after contacting a woman traveller through her personal email.
“I am the officer that helped you yesterday,” said the email. “You are my style, so do you have a boyfriend?”
In another case, a superintendent was suspended for more than 187 hours after they directed officers to release an arrested subject, falsify their notes and “pretend it never happened.”