COVID-19: An update from the National President

March 17, 2020
Image of border crossing with the words "COVID-19"

Brothers and Sisters,

In the past 48 hours, a lot has happened regarding the COVID-19 situation, with new measures being announced frequently and with little detail on how this would impact our membership. In that time, the CIU national leadership has been working hard to get further clarification from the employer to ensure our members would get adequate guidance and equipment to undertake their duties.

The union is therefore glad to report that the office of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness reached out to CIU to discuss measures currently in place. This is an encouraging development, and we welcome this openness to cooperation.

We raised several issues with the Ministry, first of which was our members’ concerns with the government continuing to allow non-essential travellers into Canada from the U.S. at land borders. At the outset, we made our position clear that, in terms of security, the union considers that we are at a stage were the country’s safety would benefit from restricting the entry of non-essential travellers at land borders as well as in airports.

Despite our position, we are sensitive to the circumstances the Minister must contend with. Cross border communities are well established across the two countries, and the Canadian government is trying to work collaboratively with the United States. People work in one country and live in the other. Given the recommendations in both countries that individuals stay at home, self-isolate, and keep at a safe distance from others –  in addition to the closure of non-essential services (theatres, libraries, etc.) – the Canadian government expects the flow of non-essential travellers into Canada will dry up on its own. That being said, they are continuing to monitor the flow and, if non-essential travel does not decline, they will consider options.

We generally agree with the Minister that a balance also needs to be struck regarding trade. There could be severe repercussions for Canadians if food products and other items are prevented from crossing the border.

The union also stressed that our officers are the first line of defense of the country, and as such should be considered as First Responders. This status would go a long way in recognizing the integral role they play in the current situation and in general. We also brought up the need for an adequate number of Personal Protective Equipment at all ports.

We have heard from a lot of members that the practice of flagpoling must stop. We agree and said as much.

Lastly, we discussed the challenges posed by the situation at Roxham Road and COVID-19. We are glad to see that, following this morning’s meeting, the Minister announced this afternoon that asylum seekers crossing irregularly would be quarantined.

In closing, this is a highly unprecedented situation, and I continue to be proud of our members who are there to ensure the safety of Canadians everywhere. Take care of yourselves.

We will make sure to keep you informed should there be new developments.

In solidarity,

Jean-Pierre Fortin
National President
Customs and Immigration Union

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