Canada’s border agents are seizing an increasing number of cellphones in Quebec and the Greater Toronto Area, according to data obtained by VICE News.
From 2012 to 2016, the number of phones seized by border agents in Quebec increased from 29 to 50, and over the same time period in the Toronto area, where Pearson International Airport is located, the number increased from 11 to 43.
The highest number of phones seized in any region in a single year was in Southern Ontario in 2015: 75 phones.
The new numbers, obtained by VICE News through access to information, come at a time when fears over phone security at the Canada-U.S. border are increasing. Numerous cases of American border agents seizing and inspecting the phones of travellers have garnered media attention following President Donald Trump’s election, and security crackdown. So much so, that experts are warning travellers to secure their devices before crossing.
Earlier this month, the federal privacy commissioner announced it is investigating the CBSA’s practice of seizing and searching phones at the border, although the commissioner doesn’t have the authority to stop the practice.
Though the numbers in Quebec and Toronto are increasing, the overall number of phones seized across Canada in the three year period is on a downward trend. In 2014, there were 192 phones seized by border guards, followed by 240 in 2015 and 173 in 2016.
Across the country, the CBSA is also seizing fewer computers. In 2014 it seized 66 computers across the country, followed by 35 in 2015 and 38 in 2016. The number of phones border agents confiscated far exceeded the number of computers. The only place where computer seizures increased was the Atlantic region — up from only one computer in 2014 to five in 2016.
Before VICE News obtained the numbers through access to information, the CBSA told us they didn’t exist. CBSA spokesperson Patrizia Giolti said in an email, “The CBSA does not have cell-phone specific seizure statistics as these are captured within a larger category of electronic goods.”
With files from Rachel Browne.