Passengers bypass customs at YVR, leads to ‘security breach’
By Ria Renouf | 1 December 2021
Canada Border Services Agency says everyone on a WestJet flight from LA to Vancouver last month has been accounted for after what it describes as a “security breach”
When Flight 1697 landed at YVR on Nov. 1, the passengers were processed as domestic instead of international travellers, meaning they didn’t have to clear customs.
“This was an extremely isolated incident that occurred as a result of an incorrect door that was left open in error, subsequently allowing guests to miss being directed through to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA),” says a spokesperson for WestJet in an email.
A spokesperson for the Vancouver Airport Authority also says a door was left open by mistake.
“Although this kind of error is extremely rare, it happened in our airport and we are committed to helping ensure it does not happen again,” the emailed statement continues.
CBSA has confirmed to CityNews they are aware of the “security breach,” and that “some passengers did not follow the standard reporting process for customs and immigration screening.”
All passengers were identified, located, and screened within 24 hours, according to CBSA.
“The CBSA takes any breach of security very seriously, and is committed to ensuring the safety of our country and our border. The CBSA has operational plans and protocols in place to respond to incidents such as this, and will continue to work with the Airport Authority, the RCMP, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Transport Canada, and WestJet to review practices to prevent future incidents.”
At the airport, one change has already been implemented.
“YVR took immediate action to review airport procedures, which resulted in one direct change: international arrivals will no longer be gated at B-Pier until a new process is tested and implemented with the airline and CBSA,” the statement from the airport authority explains.
Gabor Lukacs, with Air Passenger Rights Canada, says while this was technically a breach — he doesn’t see is too much cause for concern.
“Generally, from a very narrow flight safety perspective, I’m more concerned about who gets on the flight, not who gets off the flight,” he explains.
“What I would want to know is did they find out why it happened? Can they provide a good explanation for why they don’t think it’s going to happen again? I think that they all did the right thing, they investigated, they fixed it, they’re moving on.”
Dr. Robert Russo, a professor at UBC’s Peter A. Allard School of Law, says when things like this happen, it’s due to human error.
“Basically, it’s a result of just someone you know, inadvertently leading some group to the wrong door,” he says.
He does think there is some risk that CBSA would not actually be able to locate everyone in a situation like this one.
“I think you could say that they have a responsibility, a duty to the customer, certainly, to guide them through the customs process properly, not only just for the law, but also for security purposes”
He says this incident is reminiscent of something that happened in 2015 – involving some passengers on an Air Canada flight from Beijing to Vancouver. Those passengers were directed to the domestic luggage terminal. People who had checked their bags realized they were in the wrong place when their suitcases never appeared, and those passengers were ushered through customs.
“The problem was there were some passengers, apparently, who just had carry-on luggage, who just exited the airport. They were able to just leave from the domestic terminal.”
In that case, Russo says it took several days for all the passengers to be tracked down and screened, and changes were made in airport security processes as a result.