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Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has touted the program’s success at getting “foreign criminals” off the streets.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Canada's Border Services Agency wants to expand its "most wanted" list to include individuals who may face deportation, but have not yet been issued a warrant for removal – a move the CBSA admits could result in lengthy delays and negative publicity, internal memos show.

Currently, the "Wanted by the CBSA" list contains dozens of people the agency wants to deport and asks members of the public to call a tip line if they can help. Initially, the program went after non-citizens accused of war crimes in other countries, but it has since grown to include individuals deemed inadmissible to Canada for other reasons, such as security concerns, organized criminality or because they have been convicted of a serious crime.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has frequently touted the program's success at getting "foreign criminals" off the streets, and the CBSA says the list has helped law-enforcement officials catch 35 people and remove 24 of them since it was introduced in the summer of 2011.

But memos obtained by The Globe and Mail show the border services agency has struggled to come up with enough fugitives to keep the list current, prompting internal concerns that the program could become obsolete.

"It has become apparent that the regions are having difficulties finding cases that match the existing criteria," states a CBSA memo dated Sept. 11, 2012. "As such, a proposal for the expansion of the 'Wanted by the CBSA' program criteria is forthcoming." A second, undated memo states that the program will change its criteria to include individuals who are wanted for an admissibility hearing – but have not been ordered removed from Canada. The expanded criteria would apply only to those believed to be inadmissible on security grounds or for criminal activity.

Immigration lawyers say they're worried that expanding the list's criteria could mean ensnaring people who turn out to be innocent and damaging their reputations. "Somebody who's already been ordered deported, and has gone through due process and is now just on the lam, so to speak, at least you can make the case that you're seeking the public's assistance in finding these people," said Andrew Wlodyka, an immigration lawyer in Vancouver. "But people that haven't gone through the process yet, I think it's presumptuous to do that."

A spokeswoman from Mr. Toews's office said the CBSA would need to seek the minister's approval before changing the criteria, which it has not yet done. She declined to say whether he would approve the changes if asked and said Mr. Toews was unavailable for an interview.

The memo notes that individuals without a deportation order could be caught and then released from detention "without being any closer to actually being removed from Canada."

"These types of cases may result in lengthy delays in removing individuals as they are not at the end of the enforcement continuum," the memo states. "There is a concern that by including these cases on the 'Wanted by the CBSA' website it will be perceived negatively by the public as these individuals have not yet been determined to be inadmissible to Canada."

Despite those concerns, the memo suggests that it's better to at least know where individuals wanted for admissibility hearings are. And it points out that any negative publicity could be deflected away from the agency and toward the Immigration and Refugee Board if a person on the list is allowed to stay in Canada. "If the individuals are released from detention or allowed to remain in Canada after a decision by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), then the focus of the public's eye will shift to the IRB rather than onto the CBSA," the memo states.

A spokesman from the CBSA said everyone on the current "wanted" list is subject to an active Canada-wide warrant for removal. "The CBSA continues to evaluate the 'Wanted by the CBSA' program and to investigate new possibilities," Luc Nadon said in an e-mail.