Heading to the US? There have been some major changes at the border

The Trump administration recently made drastic changes to the authority US border agents have over travellers. Here’s what you need to know.

Amendments to a preclearance border agreement has given American border officials expanded authority when dealing with travelers coming to or through the United States. US. officials now have the authority to detain Canadians in the preclearance agreement at their discretion, and can hold them until a Canadian official can be present.

Immigration lawyer Joel Sandaluk stopped by Your Morning to talk about what rights you have, and don’t have.


U.S. officials have the authority to detain Canadians at their discretion. On busy travel days at larger airports, this can be a matter of hours – but there is no legal limit to how long border officials can detain travelers. U.S. officials can now also conduct strip searches in pre-clearance zones (referred to as partial body searches), though the person searching the traveler must be the same sex as them. If there is no border agent of the same sex nearby, the agent can authorize ANYONE of the same sex as the traveler to conduct the search.

Even if a Canadian official is “unwilling” to conduct a search or has deemed a detainment unnecessary, a U.S. official can override that call. In other words, Canadian law enforcement can now have their authority overridden by American officials in Canada.


U.S. border guards can now also deny Canadians their right of withdrawal – before the amendment was enacted, if a person felt uncomfortable in the course of preclearance questioning they could just leave, retracting their intention to cross the border with no penalty. Now, as a result of amendments, the guard is entitled to detain her if he finds “reasonable grounds” to do so – and the request to leave in itself could be considered “reasonable grounds”. Language in the amendments essentially gives American border officials the discretion to violate basic personal rights afforded to travelers by Canadian law.


In the exact language of the bill, “no action or civil proceeding may be brought against a U.S. preclearance officer in respect of anything that is done or omitted in the exercise of their powers, or the performance of their duties and functions under the legislation”.

Immigration lawyers are concerned the amendments could affect the standing of Canadian permanent residents, as it gives CBSA agents posted at a U.S. airports the right to prevent the resident from boarding a flight to Canada. This can trigger a process which could see their permanent residency revoked.

Nine Canadian airports currently offer pre-clearance, but preclearance will soon be available at a number of new locations, including Quebec’s Jean Lesage International Airport, Toronto’s Billy Bishop City Airport, Montreal Central Station and the Rocky Mountaineer train line.

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