When border control seizes any quantity of the chemicals illegally imported, the law requires it to hold and store it for 90 days. It's being held for more than two years on average
OTTAWA — Five years after an audit warned that the Canada Border Services Agency wasn’t properly managing stockpiles of dangerous chemicals a followup audit shows most problems haven’t been fixed, even as the agency has to deal with increasing amounts of toxic products.
“The control and disposal of seized goods, including precursor chemicals, is a long-standing issue for the CBSA,” begins an internal audit report dated September 2019 but published on CBSA’s website last week.
As part of its mandate, the federal agency is tasked with detecting and controlling imports of certain highly toxic substances called precursor chemicals.
Though these are often used for legitimate products such as pharmaceuticals and fertilizers, they can also be used to manufacture illegal drugs such as methamphetamines, MDMA or GHB, the “date-rape drug.”
When the CBSA seizes any quantity of precursor chemicals illegally imported into Canada, federal law requires it to hold and store it for 90 days. In most cases, the chemicals then need to be disposed.
But auditors noted that that rarely happens, and that in some areas, the dangerous chemicals were stored for two and a half years on average. In one case, seized products sat in CBSA storage for 1,681 days, or more than four and a half years.
The auditors took note of particularly sizeable stockpiles of six illegal products in various regions across Canada, but that information is redacted.
“The primary risk with the precursor chemicals currently stockpiled by the Agency is the degrading state of their plastic storage containers, which can lead to leaks, spills, residues and danger to staff health and safety,” the report reads.
“Additionally, there is a risk to public safety in the areas surrounding CBSA warehouse facilities given the highly unstable nature of these chemicals and associated risks of combustion or explosion.”
The auditors also noted that CBSA employees had trouble finding information on how to safely store the extremely toxic chemicals from their own agency. So instead, they turned to the internet.
And in cases where there was some guidance as to how to store the seized goods, the advice was too vague to be useful.
“The archived Materiel Management Volume included a short section on precursors which directed staff to store these chemicals in a ‘separate security container’ but did not provide guidance on the specific storage needs of different chemicals,” the auditors noted.
Even figuring out how much of each precursor chemical was being stockpiled at the time of the audit was complicated for the audit team.
According to the report, CBSA’s records were not always digitized, and there was no single database containing the location and quantity of seized precursor chemicals.
“The audit team experienced difficulties in creating a complete national profile of precursor chemicals held by the Agency due to regional files being largely paper-based and information being stored in locally developed databases, instead of recorded centrally or in a way that allowed for easy retrieval,” the audit reads.
CBSA did not respond to questions about the audits findings, nor did it say if it had successfully implemented any of the four recommendations made by auditors.
This isn’t the first time the agency is criticized for how it handles precursor chemicals. In a 2014 report, auditors first noted that there was a growing stockpile of precursor chemicals that presented a health and safety risk for staff, as well as being vulnerable to theft.
At the time, the report also recommended that CBSA take “immediate steps” to dispose of the toxic products all the while finding a way to make sure such stockpiles didn’t happen again.
Though some products were in fact disposed of, the recommendation remains mostly ignored, the 2019 audit concludes.
“There is no long term solution in place for disposal as precursor chemicals continue to be stockpiled,” the report reads.
The CBSA’s precursor chemical problem could become a lot worse because of changes to federal drug laws last year that extended the list of products border agents would have to seize, store and destroy.
“With recent changes (to federal drug laws) in response to the opioid crisis, the CBSA is now legislatively required to seize a broader range of suspected precursor chemicals. This is likely to increase the number of precursors held by the Agency, further exacerbating the current challenges being faced,” auditors warn.