The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) says it has intercepted hundreds of suspected fake COVID-19 test results and vaccination records from people trying to enter the country.
As of Oct. 31, border officials had encountered 374 suspected falsified COVID-19 test results at ports of entry — 160 at airports and 187 at land crossings — and intercepted 92 suspected fake proof-of-vaccination credentials, a spokesperson for the agency told CBC.
The agency did not provide a breakdown of the cases, the specific ports of entry or the possible countries of origin of the fraudulent documents.
Because they have right of entry, Canadians who enter with fake COVID-19-related records are still allowed into the country, but border officials then pass on their information to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), which has ability to investigate and issue fines. Non-Canadians could be denied entry.
A number of cases are being investigated by PHAC, which issued seven fines for suspected falsified or fraudulent COVID-19 test results between Jan. 6 to Nov. 12, that agency said. PHAC said it also issued two fines for suspected falsified or fraudulent proof of vaccination credentials between July 6 and Nov. 12.
International travellers who wish to enter Canada and are not exempt from vaccine requirements must show proof of vaccination and, unless they are re-entering the country within 72 hours of leaving, a negative COVID-19 molecular test result.
Lorian Hardcastle, a health policy expert at the University of Calgary, said she’s glad the CBSA is picking up on fake documents at the border but still has concerns.
“I do wonder what percentage that segment represents of the total number of people who are coming in without being vaccinated and/or tested,” Hardcastle said.
She said it’s important to have a clear sense of the vaccination status of people entering the country as new variants continue to emerge.
Canada has imposed travel restrictions on seven southern African countries in light of the omicron variant. As of Monday morning, two cases had been detected in Ottawa and one case was reported in Quebec.
Epidemiologist Cynthia Carr with Winnipeg-based EPI Research Inc., said the CBSA numbers are problematic.
“For every person that is not protected, they are creating enhanced risk for themselves, obviously,” Carr said. “But not protected and then travelling to other countries — you’re bringing that risk back and forth.”
Shabnam Preet Kaur, a forensic document examiner with Toronto-based Docufraud Canada, said technology can easily allow people to create a falsified document.
“You just have to download these softwares, for example, Photoshop, and you can just do all the editing as per your convenience,” she said.
“Whatever you need to change in a document, you can do it in less than five minutes.”
Kaur said it is not difficult to manipulate PDF vaccine certificates.
“I would suggest [the] QR code method is really safer as compared to the PDF of certificates,” she said.
CBSA spokesperson Rebecca Purdy said the agency works closely with domestic and international partners to detect and intercept fraudulent documents.
In a statement, Purdy said the CBSA does not disclose details of specific targeting, enforcement and investigative techniques.
She said the agency uses technology to determine the authenticity of documents and extensively trains border services officers who examine physical vaccination receipts and records.
Hardcastle said enforcement is vital, particularly as variants develop around the globe.
“We need to keep those enforcement efforts up and make sure that we are weeding out as many fraudulent and falsified records as possible,” she said.
The fine for making false or misleading statements to a quarantine, screening or environmental health officer is $825 plus applicable provincial fees and taxes, PHAC said, while travellers who present false documents could see an additional $5,000 fine.