Canada’s Border Agency Isn’t Saying Much About Its 15 Employees Accused of Sexual Assault

Photo by CP/Darryl Dyck

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

Fifteen Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) employees have been accused of sexual assault in the last decade through the agency's internal-investigation mechanism, VICE News has learned.

And at least five of those accused employees still work for the CBSA, according to documents obtained through an access to information request.

In the cases included in the access to information request, women and men reported allegations of sexual assault through the agency's internal-investigation mechanism, the security and professional standards analysis section, which looks into the allegations and determines if they are founded, unfounded, or inconclusive. This process doesn't involve police.

In half of the cases identified by VICE News, police were not called in to investigate, even if the accusation was determined by the CBSA to be founded.

In one 2006 case, which was never made public until now, three different women accused a Border Services officer of inappropriate touching on separate occasions, but the CBSA's internal investigators found their complaints inconclusive, the incidents weren't reported to police, and the officer is still employed with the CBSA.

In another case in 2013, a female Border Services officer accused a male Border Services officer of sexual assault, and she filed a complaint with both the CBSA and police. The CBSA says it fully investigated and found the case inconclusive, but police in Quebec found enough evidence to lay charges. Despite the criminal charges, the male officer is still employed by the agency.

Those are just two of four separate cases in which the employees accused of sexual assault are still employed with the CBSA. In the two other cases, involving a total of three employees, the internal investigations determined the allegations to be unfounded, although police were involved in one of the cases.

The CBSA won't explain why it still employs the five accused, or say where in Canada they are working. There are two additional employees who are currently under investigation, but the CBSA refused to disclose their employment status.

The agency has also declined to say where in Canada the incidents allegedly happened, on what dates they allegedly occurred, or which police departments were involved, citing privacy as a reason to withhold the information.

Though the access to information request revealed 14 internal investigations, the actual number of sexual assault allegations against the agency's employees is even higher.

VICE News identified two more cases that were not included in the documents provided by the agency. In 2010, Daniel Greenhalgh was convicted of three counts of sexual assault for taking women to various locations at the CBSA building and conducting inappropriate strip searches. And in another case, an unnamed CBSA officer was sentenced to two years of house arrest after he sexually assaulted and harassed a fellow officer, in one case putting a gun to her head.

These new details come at a time when sexual assault and harassment allegations are emerging at public and private institutions across North America, including at Canadian and US media outlets, inside the RCMP and the Canadian and US militaries, and on university and college campuses in Canada and the US.

On Tuesday, the Canadian Forces released its second progress report on how it's addressing rampant issues of sexual assault in its ranks, declaring some leaders had been stripped of their positions or charged with sexual assault. Since January, six individuals have been convicted of sexual misconduct–related offenses and another 24 received "severe administrative action," according to Chief of Defense Staff General Jonathan Vance.

The CBSA says it automatically launches an internal investigation if an employee is charged with a criminal offense, and its internal investigation runs parallel to the police investigation. When the police investigation concludes, the agency says it will take "appropriate action," which could involve disciplinary measures, including firing that employee.

Pending the result of an internal or external investigation, CBSA managers decide if the accused employee can stay in the workplace, needs to be reassigned to other duties, or has to be removed from the workplace without pay. "If the conclusion is that such a risk exists and cannot be mitigated, then management will consider suspension without pay of the employee, pending the outcome of management's investigation," the agency told VICE News.

In April, Halifax Police charged a Border Services agent with using his position of authority to repeatedly sexually assault a woman who was scheduled to be deported. The alleged incidents date back to 2003, when the agent, Carie Dexter Willis, worked at the Halifax CBSA office. As of April, he was still employed by the CBSA.

That case only became public because the complainant reported it to Halifax Police, who put out a news release, which was picked up by media including VICE News and prompted a request for information about internal complaints. It took five months for the CBSA to release the information in this story.

Though the agency revealed very little information about these cases, the information it did release showed a pattern of mostly female employees reporting allegations of sexual assault against male employees with no concrete resolution. In total, 14 women and two men reported sexual assaults at the hands of CBSA employees, with the number of cases increasing in recent years. It's not clear whether any of the accused officers were fired, although two resigned, and only five of the 14 cases resulted in police charges.

In the most recent case earlier this year, a female recruit with the CBSA accused a male recruit of sexual assault and filed an internal complaint with the agency. The CBSA determined internally that her allegations were founded, and the accused recruit has since left the CBSA, but the incident wasn't reported to police and was never made public.

In another case last year, a police agency (the CBSA won't say which one) charged a male CBSA employee with sexual assault, extortion, and breach of trust after a woman filed a complaint with police. The agency's internal investigation is ongoing, and the CBSA refused to say whether the accused employee is still working for the agency.

The agency would not say whether it suspects more cases of sexual assault are happening but aren't being reported through its internal mechanism.

In a statement to VICE News, the spokesperson said the government agency is "committed to nurturing a culture that is founded on values and ethics of the Public Service of Canada and the CBSA Code of Conduct, and in which all employees conduct themselves in a way that upholds the integrity of CBSA programs and demonstrates professionalism in their day to day activities."

The CBSA says it has "no tolerance" for illegal actions, and its employees are subject to "very strict codes of ethics and behavior." The CBSA takes all allegations of improper or illegal behavior "very seriously" and thoroughly investigates when it learns of these allegations, the spokesperson told VICE News.

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Post Mortem: How Living People Are Wrongfully Pronounced Dead

A few weeks ago, Barbara Murphy was having dinner with her husband at a restaurant in Utah when her credit card was declined. Her husband paid the bill, and when they got home, Murphy's granddaughter called the bank to see what was wrong.

"Of course, it's been declined," the bank's representative told her. "She's been dead for two years."

Murphy is, in fact, very much alive. When I spoke to her on the phone this week, she described the harrowing process of proving her life to numerous institutions, all of which believed she had died.

Murphy has been erroneously added to the Death Master File (DMF), a Social Security Agency (SSA) database of every American who has died from 1936 onward. It contains approximately 88 million records, each with a name, Social Security number, date of birth, and date of death. When the SSA made the database available for purchase in 1980, financial institutions started to rely on it for fraud detection.

Which is why, when Murphy was listed as dead, her bank flagged the activity in her account as fraud. The bank has since unfrozen her account, but now Social Security is trying to recoup two years of payments—about $20,000—that it claims shouldn't have been paid out since she is listed as dead. She's now contacted a lawyer and gone public, hoping to apply pressure for a quicker resolution. She told me she's been getting calls from all over the country from others in the same predicament.

Exactly how many have been in the same situation as Murphy is not known, but the SSA's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) estimates that approximately 1,000 people are erroneously added to the DMF every month. A 2013 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that SSA deleted 8,200 erroneous deaths from the DMF in the previous year. These numbers show a very small error rate—less than half a percent of the 2.8 million deaths the SSA records each year, according to a spokesperson from the SSA.

Of course, that's hardly a consolation for someone who's been mistakenly marked as dead. In a 2015 Senate hearing, Alabama resident Judy Rivers described the harrowing ordeal she faced after she was added to the DMF in 2008. Even though she had about $80,000 in her bank account, the bank froze the funds because the account was marked for fraud. Every time she needed to apply for something—a credit card, a job, a student loan, an apartment—she was declined, since her "identity could not be confirmed," or her "social security number was inactive."

Rivers ended up living in her car, and then later in a trailer, struggling to find employment beyond low-wage work, despite having a long and impressive résumé.

So how does this happen? A spokesperson for the SSA told me that reports come "primarily from the states, but also from family members, funeral homes, and financial institutions." Funeral directors are among the largest sources of death reports to the SSA, and because it's easy to make errors, there's been a push to get states (which regulate the funeral trade) to switch from paper records to electronic ones. The Electronic Death Registration (EDR) allows states to automatically verify the accuracy of a decedent's Social Security number before they transmit it to the SSA, "virtually eliminating" the problem of paper records. Nora Menkin, a funeral director at Seattle's Co-op Funeral Home, told me that under the old system, death records "went through just fine about 80 percent of the time," but under EDR, she hasn't experienced any errors.

Of course, living people still find their way onto the list. This past May, a man in Michigan—which uses EDR—was placed on the DMF because a funeral director accidentally entered one wrong digit of someone else's Social Security number.

Mistakes on the DMF also get perpetuated because of the way it's distributed. The database is literally a giant text file sold by the Department of Commerce's National Technical Information Service (NTIS). Subscribing institutions can download the updated file weekly or monthly. But NTIS only makes the last six updates available to download; anything further back, and you have to order the text file on CD. The updates aren't cumulative either, so if someone is wrongfully declared dead in one period and SSA corrects the mistake, they include the same entry with the next update (and only that update) with a "D" for "delete" next to the entry. If the subscriber doesn't record that update, or if their software doesn't translate the "D," then their version of the DMF still lists that person as dead. If they resell or share their version, the error gets replicated.

Because of this, correcting errors can be a nightmare. A New York woman, Patricia LaPorta, was added to the DMF in 2014. The SSA told her they'd fixed the problem in May 2015, but as of March of this year, LaPorta still could not borrow money or file her taxes.

Besides causing problems for the living people who are listed as dead, the DMF isn't even a comprehensive record of those who have actually died. The 2013 GAO report identified 130 individuals with negative ages—likely the result of listing the date of death as the date of birth, and vice versa. They also found 1,941 entries with ages between 115 and 195, most likely due to typos. And a 2015 report by the OIG found roughly 6.5 million individuals believed to be missing from the DMF.

There have been a few attempts to raise awareness for the issue. Tom Alciere, who runs the website Cancel These Funerals, offers a free download of the DMF as well as a list of "undeads"—people he thinks were mistakenly added to the list. Alciere told me he does this to put an end to "DMFing"—his name for erroneous death-file inclusion—and claims he's had a few success stories. Four living people discovered through his site that they were listed as dead and worked with the SSA to correct it before it became a problem for them, he told me.

But from the SSA's perspective, the DMF was never designed to be the One True Death List. It was, instead, a way for SSA to administer its own programs—and, based on government audits, it seems the SSA does a pretty good job of using the DMF to ensure it doesn't make unnecessary payments to dead people.

Plus, there are already better private databases of who's dead and who's not, according to a report by the Treasury Department's OIG, and there's no reason private institutions can't use these services today to cross-check the DMF.

Murphy, who is still struggling to resolve the aftermath of being listed on the DMF, believes her fight is far from over. When she visited the SSA's local office to contest her status as a deceased person, she was prompted to enter her Social Security number into the ticket system. It wasn't recognized. "Of course," she said. "Because I'm dead."

Follow Simon Davis on Twitter.

The Staggering Evolution of Stop-Motion in Film History

The Staggering Evolution of Stop-Motion in Film History

Filmmakers have been stop-motion animation for eons, but holy crap man, people have gotten really, really good at it. This video by Vugar Efendi tracks the evolution of stop motion in film starting with The Enchanted Drawing in 1900, which was really just a drawing of a face changing facial expressions, all the way up to the gloriously beautiful Kubo and the Two Strings, which was released this summer.