OTTAWA, April 15, 2021 — With COVID-19 continuing to spread throughout the country, the National President of the Customs and Immigration Union (CIU) is calling upon the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to honour his previous commitment, and ensure that frontline Border Services Officers and personnel working for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) are vaccinated alongside members of other federal law enforcement agencies.
For months, CIU, which represents some 11,000 members, has been pressuring the federal as well as provincial governments to suitably prioritize Border Services personnel as part of their vaccination efforts. Sadly, vaccination plans vary greatly from one province to another, resulting in a process that is especially difficult to navigate for federal workers. Indeed, two officers who work in a similar environment, who perform the same duties, but who are located in different jurisdictions may very well not benefit from the same access to priority vaccination — if they are prioritized at all.
“For the better part of the past year, CBSA men and women have continued to perform critical work despite the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Jean-Pierre Fortin, CIU’s National President. “The reality is that every day, CBSA officers and employees put their health at risk by coming into close contact with potential COVID-19 sources while fulfilling their duties”.
CBSA frontline personnel have been instrumental in Canada’s COVID-19 response, be it at land borders or in airports, where they work directly with travelers and members of the public. Frontline Border Services Officers and employees are active in postal centers and commercial operations, where they facilitate the flow of critical goods entering the country, including PPE and vaccines.
As per the federal government’s vaccination guidelines, Border Services personnel should have been included at Stage 2 of the provinces’ vaccination plans. Unfortunately, that has often not been the case. Earlier this year, the union launched a letter-writing campaign, encouraging members to write to their provincial elected representative to sound the alarm on the pressing need for vaccination. Jean-Pierre Fortin also wrote personally to the Premiers of most provinces, advocating for fair and considerate vaccination plans.
While some provinces, notably New Brunswick and Newfoundland & Labrador, made it clear early on that frontline CBSA personnel would be vaccinated, the situation remains uneven for most of the country. Despite headways in Ontario and Quebec thanks to union pressure, some work locations remain unvaccinated, with members left in the dark. The situation is even more dire in British Columbia, where Vancouver International Airport remains one of the only airports in Canada open to international travellers where Border Services Officers are not prioritized in some way for vaccinations. Personnel located in the Prairie Provinces have also been left in the lurch.
Recently, Minister Blair met virtually with CIU members and local union representatives in Lacolle, Quebec, and in Windsor, Ontario. At these meetings, the Minister committed to intervening personally if CBSA frontline personnel were not added to their provinces’ COVID-19 vaccination plan. Despite these assurances, and despite the CIU National President writing to the Minister following these meetings, the issue remains unresolved.
“It is high time for Minister Blair to do what’s right and reach out to the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, and to the Honourable Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement, to ensure that CBSA employees are protected to the same degree as other federal law enforcement personnel,” declared Jean-Pierre Fortin. “The federal government has the power to secure sufficient vaccine doses for CBSA employees, and must do so immediately.”
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).