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Trafficking of illegal firearms: CIU National President highlights important gaps, calls for increased reliance on border officers

CIU Flag / Drapeau du SDI

On Tuesday, February 1, 2022, the National President of the Customs and Immigration Union, Mark Weber, testified in front of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security as part of their study on gun control and illegal arms trafficking, highlighting the union’s concerns regarding Canada’s ability to curb smuggling activities.

Border Officers must be allowed to operate between ports of entry

In his opening statement, National President Weber brought to the Committee’s attention three areas of particular importance: Long-standing and widespread understaffing at CBSA, important operational gaps impacting highway, marine, and rail modes of operation, and the pressing need for increased reliance on the unique expertise of CBSA personnel, including between ports of entry.

“If the Government of Canada is serious in addressing the problem of illegal firearms smuggled across the border, the mandate of border officers must be expanded so as to assist in patrolling between crossings” said Weber to the Committee, criticizing the current inability of CBSA officers to operate outside ports of entry. “It is a well-known fact that the border between Canada and our neighbours to the south is the longest undefended border in the world. While this is certainly a testament to the good relations between our two countries, it also comes with its own unique security challenges. To mitigate these, we invite the Government of Canada to empower its CBSA officers to further help curb smuggling activities into Canada from land or sea routes, including between ports of entry.”

Outdated and insufficient infrastructure

During the three-hour long session, the CIU National President also highlighted issues affecting most modes of operation, including outdated or insufficient infrastructure, pointing to rail operations as a particularly glaring example, amongst others: “The reality is that our current operational abilities in the rail field are virtually non-existent: Canada has zero examination capabilities directly at the border, due in part to geographical issues, inadequate tools, and political decisions not to force rail carriers to supply the necessary facilities. In other words: There is an almost 0% chance that any illegal weapon entering the country via rail will ever be found.”

National President Weber’s message was clear: CBSA needs to not only address the pressing staffing issues that compound important operational gaps, but it should also further rely on the unique expertise of its officers when it comes to policy decisions. “Too often will management take a course of action that either does not take into account, or blatantly disregards, the reality in the field. We believe that this could be corrected through meaningful consultation with, and effective involvement of, our members.”

A recording of the Committee proceedings can be viewed here.

Reduction of Hours of Operation at Ports of Entry: Customs and Immigration Union Expresses Concerns

CIU Flag / Drapeau du SDI

Press Release – Ottawa, November 12, 2018 – The National President of the Customs and Immigration Union which represents 10,000 members, most of whom are front line border services and inland immigration enforcement officers, has raised concerns regarding the recent announcement that effective November 26, 2018, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) will be reducing the hours of operation at nine ports of entry in New Brunswick, Quebec, Manitoba and British-Columbia.

CIU National President Jean-Pierre Fortin provided details of the looming closures, outlining the larger issue of CBSA’s continuing reduction of operational capabilities:

“Hours of operation will be reduced in the future at the Fosterville, Milltown, Morses Line, South Junction, Tolstoi, Piney, Snowflake, Carson and Nelway ports of entry. In August 2017, CIU had expressed concerns regarding a similar reduction in hours of operation in New Brunswick and had predicted that CBSA would expand this practice to other ports of entry. This month’s reduction in hours is clearly a continuation of what began last year. The only explanation provided by CBSA is that this is being done to harmonize Canada’s hours of operation with those at US facilities. No consideration is being given to the bordering communities who will be impacted by the reduced hours of service, or to the overall safety of Canadians.”

On the latter point, Fortin highlighted the clear contradiction between reducing hours of operation at ports of entry and the Government of Canada’s stated aim of wanting to increase security at the border.

“In a recent press release, the Government of Canada announced additional funding for CBSA to invest in new resources and technology that will stop the flow of illegal firearms into Canada. While we welcome the additional funding, we know that technology cannot replace seasoned officers. It is baffling to us that on the one hand CBSA would put in place new technology to stop the flow of illegal goods, while on the other reduce the hours of operation at nine ports of entry. The recent weapons seizure in Fort Erie should serve to remind us all – the country’s first line of defence must not only be well-equipped, it must be properly staffed.”

Fortin further calls upon the Canadian Government and CBSA to use the increased funding to invest in additional border officers and expand their role to ensure the integrity of the Canadian border. He added that if there was no other alternative to reducing hours of operation, border officers should at the very least have the authority to travel between ports of entry and monitor the ports after hours.

“While Americans benefit from a dedicated border patrol that can maintain their country’s security even when a port of entry is closed, Canadians do not.

Current events show that the border never sleeps. A dedicated CBSA border patrol would go a long way towards maintaining our border’s integrity. Whether we’re talking about asylum seekers crossing outside of designated ports of entry or the trafficking of dangerous goods such as firearms and drugs, border officers need to be able to react quickly and efficiently. A dedicated border patrol would see border officers better equipped to perform their duties to protect, and hence ensure the safety, security and well-being of Canadians.”

The Customs and Immigration Union (CIU) is a component of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), which represents Canada’s Front-Line Customs and Immigration Officers. CIU also represents Investigation, Intelligence and Trade Customs Officers, Immigration Inland Enforcement and Hearings Officers, as well as all support staff – all of whom work at the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

Influx of Migrants: CIU Calls for More Officers, Creation of Border Patrol

Icon: "Allow border officers to patrol"

In order to help Border Services Officers (BSOs) deal with the considerable influx of migrants crossing into Canada, the National President of the Customs and Immigration Union, Jean-Pierre Fortin, is calling on Ottawa to restore jobs cut under the previous Conservative government.

“We’re talking about 1,053 jobs” said Jean-Pierre Fortin. “At this time, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is merely reallocating officers from one station to another. It isn’t sustainable in the long term. With a single refugee case taking up to 8 hours to process, there simply aren’t enough officers present to perform all duties associated with protecting our border.”

Increasing the number of border officers is therefore a crucial step the present government must take if it is serious about handling the current situation in a safe and efficient manner.

Border Officers should be allowed to patrol

In addition, Border Officers need to be allowed to patrol between the 117 different land border ports across Canada. “Border Services Officers are trained and equipped to handle difficult situations at the border,” explained the National President. “Allowing BSOs to take the lead in patrolling the border while continuing to work in collaboration with RCMP officers simply makes sense.”

With warmer weather on the horizon and a continuous flow of migrants entering Canada along the border, it is imperative that the government recognize that the level of staffing is inappropriate to deal effectively with the ongoing situation.