CanBorder – Episode 02: Traveller Modernization
- Hello, and welcome to @CanBorder, a podcast, offering an inside look at the ways the Canada Border Services Agency works towards protecting and bettering the lives of Canadians and travellers crossing the country's border. I am your host Tamara Lopez. We would like to acknowledge that we are recording this episode on the traditional territory of many nations including the Metis Nation of Ontario, the Anishnabeg, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and the Huron-Wendat peoples. This land is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples. In the spirit of reconciliation, we invite all listeners to reflect on and continually learn about the land they currently reside on and the Indigenous communities it is home to.
Welcome everyone to @CanBorder, the CBSA podcast. I'm your host Tamara Lopez and today's topic is Traveller Modernization. With me today I have Erin Aubé, the Director of Traveller Projects. She's calling in from Ottawa.
And I have Maxime Jenkins-Lagueux, who is Acting Chief of Operations at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport in Montreal. Welcome both of you. - Hello everyone.
- Good morning, Tamara. - Thank you for being with me today. So let's get right into the topic on traveller modernization.
Talk to me, what exactly is traveller modernization? - Traveller modernization is an effort to de-stress the border crossing experience. What we're looking to do is push the border out and implement self-service tools so that travellers can submit as much information as possible pre-arrival. So we're looking at things like apps and kiosks to reduce the amount of in-person interaction at air customs halls.
Right now we do have ArriveCAN, which is a free for download application that travellers must use But we're looking to leverage that and enhance that to allow travellers the opportunity to submit their declaration for customs and immigration in advance of arrival. So in doing so, it offers travellers the opportunity to fill that out in advance of arrival, which, you know, kind of on their own time. It gives them the opportunity to take the time they need to answer the questions and provide whatever information is required to cross the border. Maybe instead of, you know, after a long flight or a long drive having to provide and answer the questions the officer asks. We currently have two pilots of the Advance CBSA Declaration running.
One is running at Vancouver International Airport and the other one at Toronto Pearson International Airport. So travellers arriving at those two locations are able to submit their declaration pre-arrival, fill out all those questions that officers normally ask on a voluntary basis and then when they arrive in those customs halls, they can proceed to a customs kiosk. So it saves a lot of time whenever travellers use the self-service tools rather than waiting to answer those questions on the kiosk or to an officer at our airports. - You mentioned kiosks, what kiosks are we talking about right now? Are they those PIK machines and what does that stand for? - Yeah, so the kiosks that are in place at our major airports are Primary Inspection Kiosks or PIKs. So they enable travellers to use self-service tools. So approach the kiosk, it takes a picture, that picture is compared with the photo that's on the passport chip.
So there's a chip in your passport that contains your picture. So that photo taken by the kiosk is matched against the one that's in the passport. And then travellers are able to enter their declaration information on the kiosk. A receipt is printed and then that's what they take to the officer. So it enables the collection of kind of the administrative information, if you will, the declaration, the capture of the document so that those travellers can proceed to a officer for further review.
- So talking about PIK machines, can anybody use these machines foreign nationals, Canadians? - Yes, of course. This is a great addition with the PIK machine is that it improve accessibility for all passengers. For example, the machine can go up or down to adjust height for people that are, for example, in the wheelchair. It also offers translation so if you're coming from Spain, you can get a translation in Spanish or even in German.
It's even possible to reprogram the machine if we observe that a language has not been set up in the PIK machines and we're getting new flights. For example, in Montreal recently, there was a direct flight added from Delhi. So Hindi was added to the PIK machine to help us process passengers. - And that's great to obviously be very inclusive for other languages that are popular or well-spoken across the world. Erin, back to you. When we're looking about the implementation of the technologies across the border, how has COVID affected implementation of these technologies? - Well, CBSA was looking to implement more self-service technologies and tools for travellers in advance to the pandemic.
What the pandemic did was speed up our timelines for some of those, the implementation of some of those projects. And for instance, like ArriveCAN was a COVID response. We needed to be able to collect public health information from travellers. So we very quickly put together that application and rolled it out in all modes, air, land, marine, rail, for travellers entering Canada regardless of mode. So it was really an opportunity to be able to advance these technologies and implement them in a very quick timeframe as a response to COVID-19.
- Erin, you had mentioned earlier about a long drive. So are PIK machines, for example, at land borders, or is ArriveCAN available at a land border or machines, are they just at the airports? - So ArriveCAN is available in all modes. So whether you're travelling by air or land or rail or cruise, ArriveCAN is available in those locations. It must be, it's mandatory for travellers to use it to enter their information in advance of arrival. Primary Inspection Kiosk or PIKs are only available at the airport at the present time. We are however looking into the application of gates, electronic gating at land border locations to expedite traveller processing much like we do in the airports.
- And then talking about the ArriveCAN app, what sort of information am I actually putting into that ArriveCAN app? My passport details, what goes into that? - Right now, the ArriveCAN app is able to gather biographic information such as your name, your address, and where you live, and in the future the ArriveCAN will be also used to gather all custom and information declarations. - So when someone completes this ArriveCAN app, what happens? Do they get a code, do they get some sort of a free pass? What happens to the traveller or for the traveller? So people, when they're leaving their country of origin, for example, they're travelling from France to Canada, the first step they have to do is to fill out their ArriveCAN declaration. They're gonna log in either onto a desktop or a PC, a normal computer onto the website of ArriveCAN or into the mobile application on their mobile device to be able to enter their biographic information such as their names and their passport information.
So once everything is entered into the ArriveCAN, they get some kind of a green light and it issues a code that is a reference for Border Services Officer once they arrive to the border. So after the declaration is submitted through the ArriveCAN and the plane has landed to an airport for example, passengers are processed through the custom hall and they have to provide that code to a Border Services Officer. All the information is already in CBSA's system, it's already provided and there is some checks that are done automatically by the app to validate the information that has been submitted. For example, it can identify if there are some irregularities.
So it helps us detect some fraud in these cases. - Moving into, again how these technologies will now impact travellers? Erin, how does it impact the travellers, the technologies that are being implemented by the CBSA? - Well, firstly it's faster for travellers. Travellers that are participating in the pilot that I mentioned earlier, so submitting their information pre-arrival, are seeing a 50% reduction in their processing times. So that's first and foremost the greatest benefit to travellers of traveller modernization. The second is that it reduces the stress. So you don't have to have, you're not fumbling for your documents or, you know, having to think very hard to answer the questions 'cause you've already done so kind of at your own speed, in the comfort of your home or hotel room.
You're able to do that before you arrive and so you're not as stressed as you go through the process. And third, it reduces the risk of disease transmission. So because you're being processed more quickly, it means less time spent in that customs hall which means less chance of disease transmission or COVID infection.
- And that's obviously taking safety into consideration. So less people gathering in the primary hall or less interaction with other officers, other travellers, and of course the pushing the border out. So ensuring that we de-stress the entire border experience for the travelling public.
And then Erin, just again, explain or describe to me what pushing the borders out, that terminology means coming from the traveller perspective? - So pushing the border out from the traveller perspective is completing, answering the questions, completing the forms in advance of arrival. So again, with a view of de-stressing making the border crossing experience a little less stressful. - Maxime, what about the perspective of yourself or those working for you at the airport? How's that technology assisting with travellers' experience? - Well, it's good for everyone. Technology is always a great addition to what we do and it helps us doing more with less as well.
Border Services Officers are highly qualified for different areas of border integrity and what technology allows us to do is to focus our energy into intercepting passengers that represents a risk to Canada or Canadian and to facilitate the entry of passengers that represents no risk. So the technology with the help of ArriveCAN or the PIK machine helps us conduct a risk assessment based process before people get to the border, or even once they're at the border, which facilitate the work of the Border Services Officer, instead of focusing on asking questions about, "Are you bringing back alcohol or weapons?" They can really focus their work into intercepting people that represents a risk in organised criminality, for example, or terrorism. - So you're saying that the machines, again, assist the BSOs as well as of course of CBSA with risk assessment? - Yes. Yes, that's exactly it.
When people get to the machine, if we put aside Advance Declaration, once people get the airport and they present themselves to the PIK machine, they enter their custom and immigration declaration. And there's also a picture that is taken at the same time as they're scanning their passport. So there is a verification that is made between the picture that is taken at the airport and the picture that is contained on the electronic chip, like Erin mention earlier. So this helps us a lot with identifying passengers.
For example, if you Tamara, you wanted to hide something and you were travelling to Canada, you could use the passport of someone else, or just change the information that is contained on the physical passport. However, when you would get to the PIK machine and there would be that picture taken, and then that picture would be validated with the information that is contained on the passport. It would pull out a flag to the officer that you would see before exiting the airport saying, "Oh, watch out. It might not be Tamara that is in front of you." So then we would be able to focus our energy into further investigating you that represents a risk rather than investigating everyone that don't represent a risk.
- Now that's very fascinating. Yes, so the technology's able to determine or detect if, again, I am the person or the actual bearer or holder of that document. How else would you say then that the technologies are benefiting BSOs? Is there a concern, for example, that maybe the machines were here to replace BSOs even? - There will always be a concern and we lived it through history. If we go back, even outside of CBSA, technology is always seen as a risk but it is not the intention of the CBSA to replace officers with machine.
It's really just like an added tool. It's something that would help us doing our work better and focus our energy into something that represent a bigger value than just processing every single person entering Canada. And there are some concerns within the officers that machines or technologies could be replacing officers. However, we're moving further and further away from this as people see the impact of technology and how it helps them to do their work. - Okay, good.
So it was good to know, so similar to maybe if you were to go through, let's say self checkout at a big box store and you're able to go through but you will always have to encounter a real live person at the end to verify. So I went through at Costco self-checkout, but someone at the exits going to verify my receipt to ensure that my receipt matches my goods just like an officer would do the same at the airport. - Exactly, right now, what's going on is we're not moving fully away from seeing a Border Services Officer in airport operations.
We're just trying to reduce the amount of time that people spend in front of an officer. As we mentioned earlier, you know, it's stressful coming to the border. And the more steps you add, the more stress you add to someone coming back from a long trip, for example, and the best example is most people working at the CBSA are still stressed when they go through border processing, because you come in and you wanna be sure that you declared everything that you have, and that the person in front of you, in that case, the Border Services Officer will see you for who you are truly and there's always that stress that, "Oh, is he doubting what I'm saying?" So we're trying to reduce that contact for people that are at lower risk. So right now the way it works at an airport, we see an officer only twice. Once the person has done their declaration at the PIK machine, they're gonna see an officer to confirm their identity as well as their declaration receipt. And then they will be allowed to enter the custom hall where they will go get their baggages and go pay taxes and duties, for example.
And after that, they will be led through our exit, the exit of the CBSA zone where another officer will verify that there are no flags raised on the receipt. For example, they need to go through a secondary examination where we search luggages for contraband. - And yes, you are absolutely right.
Even myself as an officer, I am still stressed when I go across the border because I'm always afraid if I stumble, does it look like I'm concealing information? What is happening? So I completely understand of why we wanna try and minimise the stress on the individuals. Let us clear up though some misconceptions at the airport or even at land borders. Random, does the CBSA, do they do body scans? - No, they don't. That's a good one Tamara because people think that sometime the CBSA is being confused with airport security.
So what we tell people to reassure them is that the CBSA is the agency you will come in contact when you arrive to Canada from an international travel. And the only thing we put in x-rays at the CBSA are luggages or conveyances, never people. - Okay, good. So we're not x-raying people.
Just again, someone's baggage or maybe a conveyance. Talking about then the PIK machines that are in existence. Are travellers being recorded? And then, what are their photographs being used for? - So the PIK kiosk doesn't take a recording of the traveller.
It does take a picture. The traveller knows that it's taking a picture. It prompts you on screen that it is. And they'll even give you a frame to see kind of what you look like in that picture that the kiosk is taking. The purpose of that picture is to compare it against the photo in the electronic chip of your E-passport. So it's doing a biometric verification, a one-to-one match.
Does the person who's presenting to the kiosk match the picture that's on the passport? And the reason for that of course is identity fraud. Making sure that we have the right individual, we have the identity of the traveller that's presenting. - And then what about privacy? I'm sure that's also a concern too. How long does the information you collect for example, from the machine stay on file? And then do you work with someone else in terms of ensuring the privacy of the traveller? - So data collected on entry is captured for six years if it's a regular passage with no enforcement action taken. If it is a case that involves an investigation or criminal charges, that information is kept a bit longer. It must be for the proper criminal proceeding to take place.
But in commonplace, it's six years for a regular passage. In terms of privacy considerations, CBSA works closely with the office of the Privacy Commission to make sure not only your biometric, but also your biographical data, so your tombstone name, date of birth. Information is protected within our systems. Our IT applications and databases are designed with privacy in mind and have a number of security layers to ensure the protection of your data.
- So that's the biometrics that are being collected from people you obviously ensure that it's protected in a safe way. Is that even somewhere in the Customs Act, maybe? About privacy and information sharing? - Yes, it is actually into the Custom Act under Article 107. Protecting information is really critical to the CBSA and there are very few instance where we can share the information that we collect either with other enforcement partners or just the general public.
- Okay then Maxime, back to you. Question about fingerprint usage. What do you use the fingerprints for? Talk to me about the history of the fingerprint. - Actually, fingerprints at the CBSA started in the early '90s and it was one of the first action that was taken towards the use of biometrics. And right now the way we use biometrics is to confirm identity once again, for example, when we issue a Canadian visa that is required to enter Canada, or if someone applies for a work or a study permit abroad, they need to go to get their biometric information captured through fingerprints and pictures. And then once they arrive to Canada, after they go through that whole process we've been discussing, they need to go see a Border Services Officer that will process their work permit at the Port of Entry.
So they will take the fingerprints to validate that the information that was captured abroad prior to arrival to Canada represents the same as the person that's submitting at the airport. So it's just to confirm that the person that applied for the visa or the work or study permit abroad is the same as the one that is entering the country on that date. - So just like the verification of my face with my passport in the machine, we're also using fingerprints to ensure that the person that applied overseas is a person that's in front of us that day.
- Exactly. - Okay, Erin question for you. What do we think about now the future of traveller modernization, what does that look like? - CBSA is looking to enhance the ArriveCAN application and deploy that Advance CBSA Declaration feature to additional airports in the coming year. So currently we have it available at Vancouver International Airport and Toronto Pearson International Airport and we're looking to expand the availability of that feature to additional airports within the next year.
So that will allow travellers arriving at those other airport locations the ability to submit their declaration pre-arrival and make use of those time efficiencies that I mentioned previously. So we'll be able to be processed faster. Outside of that, CBSA is looking to expand the use of the ArriveCAN application Advance CBSA Declaration feature in all modes. So land, rail, cruise, wherever travellers enter Canada, would be able to leverage the ArriveCAN application and submit their declaration voluntarily to CBSA in advance of arrival.
And again, with the view of expediting the travel. - And Maxime, what about your perspective on the future of traveller modernization? - Well, I think the first word that comes to mind is exciting for us in operations. We're really looking forward to making the border experience better and easier for travellers that deserve it. So if you are a family that is coming back from Disneyland for example, and we don't need to ask you too many questions or investigate you further, we want your experience at the border to be seamless and easy with just the right amount of CBSA officer being involved.
And whereas on the other end we wanna make it tougher for people that have no reason to come to Canada or that represent a risk to the safety of Canadians, we want to boost border integrity with the use of technology which is what we're on the way to do so it's making it better for everyone. - And Maxime for yourself, being in the operations, what is your take again on the modernization of the border and then the travel industry? How have you seen it implemented firsthand at Pierre Elliott Trudeau? - Well, first it started with the implementation of the PIK machines. That was one of the big step where we started using technology to make the whole border process easier.
I'm sure everybody remembers back in the days when you had to fill out a paper card in the airplane and then get to the border and once you get off the plane and you walk your way to the custom hall, and oops, you forgot your custom declaration card. So you had to redo another one and then there are delays and you have to submit that card to an officer that needs to validate it and again, there are more delays. So really border modernization is meant to make everything faster and safer. We want to reduce the amount of time that people spend doing their declaration but also the amount of time that our officers spend validating that declaration. And that's what technology allows us to do right now.
So if people are able to submit their declaration on the PIK machine and it issues a receipt, it's the same receipt for everyone. It makes it easier for our officer to look at that receipt and analyse and take a decision based on the information that is presented to us. - Okay, so they're facing out those old school E311 or the customs declarations cards, again for something a bit more modern because everyone has smart phones and smart technology so I think an app or an application is the better way to go. So Erin, any final thoughts on traveller modernization? - So just a kind of a comment on the, everybody has a smartphone. Most people do.
There still are quite a few travellers that don't, however, so that's why we do have the ArriveCAN web form. So you don't need a smart phone to cross the border based on where we're going with traveller modernization. You can fill out the ArriveCAN form and the Advance CBSA Declaration via the web form in future. And then you get an email receipt and you print it out and you can use that.
So there's no need to go out and buy smartphones. We've got you covered if you don't have one. - I didn't even realise that and you're right. Not everyone does.
Certain demographics may not even have smartphones. I don't think my mother has one yet. We're working on getting her one hopefully for her birthday, but yes, there's another option too. So again, if they don't have the smartphone app then we can use the web, but we're definitely trying to go with more paperless sorts of pre-declaration in terms of traveller modernization. And then Maxime, any final thoughts on traveller modernization, what you've seen in your operations? - Again, just really, that is exciting.
We have to keep in mind that people travel a lot. We hope they're gonna start travelling again following the end of restrictions or the end of the pandemic in a let's hope a near future. But it is just to make the border processing easier for everyone and to be welcoming as a nation to others that are willing to come and visit and to be a little bit less welcoming for people that we need to intercept for security or criminal reasons. - Of course, definitely have to make sure that we are always doing our job protecting the safety and security of Canada.
Well, that concludes this episode of @CanBorder, the CBSA podcast on traveller modernization. I definitely wanna thank my guests Erin Aubé and Maxime Jenkins-Lagueux for being with me today. So thank you.