CFIA Outages: Don't Get Mad, Get Proactive

Most importers know that it can be a nightmare navigating the requirements of Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and other Participating Government Agencies (PGAs) when importing goods into Canada. However the red tape gauntlet becomes even more dreadful with systems outages. When most government agencies now require importers to submit release requests electronically, outages can add costs for importers. Although these agencies understand that for every minute the movements of goods are delayed, the importer expends another dollar. What will always ring true is that importing is a privilege, not a right, and outages are part and parcel.

Food, Plant and Animal Imports Are Most Affected By Outages

It seems that most outages when importing into Canada occur with the CBSA and/or Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

Both CBSA and CFIA work together to regulate and control the import, export and in-transit movement of food, plant or animal (FPA) and related products.

Importers are responsible for ensuring that their goods comply with the requirements of these agencies while CFIA prohibits, restricts, controls and/or limits the importation of FPA products from around the world to help mitigate the risk of introducing threats into Canada.

In some cases import documentation such as licenses, permits, certificates and/or other documents or information are required before the goods can be introduced into Canada. This information must be provided to the CFIA prior to the arrival of the goods at the border.

CFIA Submission Options

In order to comply with CBSA and CFIA prior to arrival notice, importers must ensure that they or their customs broker provide import data in one of two ways:

Submission By Fax or Email (Paper Process)

CFIA established the National Import Services Centre (NISC) as a single point of contact for review, information and advice concerning CFIA import requirements.

For every shipment of goods requiring documentation review by the CFIA NISC, the importer must complete a CFIA 5272 Request for Documentation Review form and along with the CFIA required import documentation and submit this document (by fax or email) to the NISC for review prior to the import of these products. A CBSA transaction number is mandatory for all import requests and must appear on the CFIA 5272 form.

The NISC is open for review of documents between the hours of 0700 – 0300 EST.

Electronic Submission by IID

For those importers or customs brokers transmitting an Integrated Import Declaration (IID) release request under the Single Window Initiative (SWI), the completion of the CFIA 5272 is generally not necessary. This is because SWI’s IID allows for the provision of license, certificate, permit and other import documentation information to be submitted via the Digital Image Functionality and/or materialized information.

For Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) transmissions, importers/brokers will receive an electronic notification of the CFIA’s response via the CBSA’s Accelerated Commercial Release Operations Support System (ACROSS). This response from CFIA must be received by CBSA before CBSA can render their decision and the FPA goods can be imported.

Both the CFIA and the CBSA encourage importers/brokers to submit their import release requests electronically and reduce paper submissions as much as possible. Most release requests are submitted electronically by using the SWI IID process.

Outage Contingency Plan

When the CBSA and/or CFIA system is down due to an unscheduled or scheduled outage, the importer/broker must follow the CBSA Systems Outage Contingency Plan.

There are different types of outages and the method by which importers/brokers must deal with each type is spelled out in the Contingency Plan. Outages include:

  • Unscheduled Outage: A problem has created a situation that was not expected and has caused some type of outage or delay. Generally with these types of outages there is no estimated time of resolution until an analysis has been completed and the problem has been identified.
  • Scheduled Outage: Occurs for maintenance or a systems release of new functionality or problem fixes. A time period for the outage is established and published for the trade community in advance of the outage. Generally scheduled outages take place in the early mornings on a weekend, which coincides with the lowest volume or transaction processing.

It is important for importers/brokers that CBSA and CFIA limit the number of outages whether scheduled or unscheduled as much as possible. Although the CBSA Systems Outage Contingency Plan spells out the processes to follow for each type of outage or delay in processing it requires the re-submission in some cases of data and/or the requirement to revert to paper processes which now involves the double and triple handling of information and data for one single shipment let alone multiple shipments.

Outage Frequency 2018 - 2019

This is exacerbated by not knowing when the system will be back up which tends to occur quite often with CFIA and also with CBSA since September 2018. There have been cases when the CFIA systems have been down or slowed in processing for periods lasting as long as 12 days. This induces havoc on the importer in receiving their products in a timely manner. In addition, costs are added for the additional handling of information by the importer/customs broker and cancelling or rescheduling of logistics. A review of the outages was taken for the period January – February 2019 as shown below (as notified by CFIA).

2018 # of hours of outage
January 19
February 20.5
March 225
April 6
May 30.5
June 22.5
July 27
August 263.5
February 20.5
September 6.5 (CBSA)
October 5.5 (CFIA) and 46.5 (CBSA)
November 24 ( CFIA) and 24.45 (CBSA)
December 48 (CFIA) and 17 hours (CBSA)
2019 # of hours of outage
January 24 (CBSA)
February 27 (CBSA)

CFIA Communication

Add these outages to the hours of operation for submitting documents to the NISC (open from 0700 – 0300 EST) and one can argue that the importer/customs broker is held hostage by the CBSA and CFIA through their hours of operation and the failing electronic systems.

Importers often call their customs brokers in an attempt to get information on when their shipments will be cleared, but therein lies another issue.

In an effort to advocate for our importer clients, we are often reaching out to CFIA by phone and email. More often than not, our questions cannot be answered by phone, and a message is taken to be returned in an undisclosed timeframe. Emails are sent, but it can take hours to get a return.

In voicing the concerns of our importer clients with CFIA, they admit that improvements are needed and assure us that they are working hard to resolve these age-old issues.

Get Proactive

Navigating the border can be overwhelming with or without system outages. In today's international world of economics, time is money and the cost of crossing borders costs both. While we cannot predict the reliability of technology, nor can we rely on timely communications with CFIA, we strongly advise importers to submit release requests to us as far in advance as possible to avoid getting stuck at the port.

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About Author
Jan Brock

Jan Brock joined Pacific Customs Brokers in 2015 as a Senior Trade Advisor. She retired from Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) in 2015 after serving more than 37 years. Jan started her career with CBSA as a summer student in 1976 and worked part-time until she graduated from U.B.C. with a Bachelor of Education Degree in 1980 . Shortly after graduating from U.B.C. Jan worked full time as an inspector with CBSA and within three years was promoted to Superintendent. She served some time in the Regional Operations office as an Operations Review Officer before she was promoted to Chief of Operations first at the Customs Mail Centre, then in the Metro District as the Commercial Chief and ending her career as a Chief at Pacific Highway Commercial Operations where she served as Chief from 1992 to 2015. During her career she was a member of the Customs Drug Team and a trainer in the National Enforcement Program. Jan also served as the Regional Coordinator Officer Powers and Use of Force for the Pacific Region. Jan served on many Commercial Program Reviews and committees both national and regional during her career and possesses an expansive knowledge of importing and exporting into and from Canada.

While we strive for accuracy in all our communications, as the Importer of Record it is incumbent upon your company to ensure that you are aware of the requirements under the new regulations so that you maintain compliance as always.