Customs union leader shocked by planned cuts

ByBOB MIHELL, SPECIAL TO SAULT THIS WEEK Updated 4 days ago   http://m.saultthisweek.com/articledisplay.aspx?e=3536903

The safety and security of Canadians will be put at greater risk because of recently announced cuts to the ? Canada Border Service Agency by the Conservative federal government, according to the local president of the Customs and Immigration Union.

Sandy Lucio, branch president of Local 26 representing about 200 CBSA employees from North Bay to Rainy River, Ontario said last Thursday, “I want to emphasize the impact these cuts are going to have, not only to the lives of the workers who have 15 to 25 years of service, but on public safety.”

While Lucio confirmed that no frontline officers would be cut at the Sault Ste. Marie port, he said that the loss of the dog detector team, and new restrictions to be imposed on the Sault waterways mobile contraband detection unit, would have the most significant impact on border security, and increase greatly the risk locally of cross-border crime. “I think one of the biggest things we lost here in Sault Ste. Marie is our drug and weapon dog,” Lucio said. “Our feeling as a union, especially with the detector dog program, is you are really compromising the safety and security of Canadians, and the border towns they are in by getting rid of these dog teams. These dog teams are instrumental in finding drugs and weapons in commercial loads, transport trailers, on commercial ships, and pleasure craft that use the waterway all the way down to Manitoulin Island.”

Lucio said that 19 dog detector teams across Canada will be slashed within the next six months.

Lucio said that often when an officer fails to identify illegal drugs or weapons, the dog detector will pick up their presence. “We are dumbfounded they are cutting [the program] so much. Country wide, one of the biggest cuts that surprised us were the detector dogs because they are an invaluable tool to the officers and important to the safety of the public,” Lucio stressed.

He also said that the local contraband detection unit that operates on the waterways between Sault Ste. Marie and Killarney Ontario, often in conjunction with the OPP marine unit, has been told that effective immediately they will be restricted now to duties at the Sault Ste. Marie port of call.

“What they’ve done is handcuff these units because before they used to actually monitor border crossing from Sault Ste. Marie all the way to Manitoulin Island and Killarney, Ontario,” Lucio said. “We would have these mobile teams that would check the marinas, boats coming from the U.S., and Canadian boats coming from foreign ports, and also the areas that were secluded where we suspected illegal activity. These teams are now restricted at the border mainly to facilitate traffic.”

Besides those two programs, the Sault’s Customs and Immigration office at the Bay Street federal building is scheduled to close, with the loss of two full-time positions, Lucio said.

Four program service workers at the Bay Street office may be affected as well, he added, because that office is being reduced from 13 to nine positions through competition.

Lucio said that he met with CBSA Regional Director General in Ottawa last Tuesday where he was told all the proposed cuts are final.

Lucio said that he would be meeting all this week in Ottawa with Customs and Union representatives in Ottawa to discuss the union’s options in the wake of last week’s announcements.

Although front line officers are not facing cuts at the Sault port, Lucio said that it is generally accepted that the local border is understaffed.

“The reason is, they don’t want to hire, and the hiring that they do undertake are seasonal officers, who are full-time from May to the end of October when they are let go until the next May,” Lucio said. He said that officers often have to work mandatory overtime, and despite lengthy lineups on the bridge, they do not have the staff to open additional lanes. “Do I foresee the wait-times going up? Yes, I do see that happening in the future,” Lucio said.

According to a CTV News report April 12, the CBSA cuts of $143 million over the next three years will result in the loss of 1,100 CBSA employees across the country.

The CTV report quoted Jean-Pierre Fortin, president of the Customs and Immigration Union, as saying, “The reductions are a direct attack on our national security and public safety.” Fortin added, in the CTV report, if the job cuts go ahead, “more weapons, illegal drugs and child pornography will pass through our borders, not to mention terrorists and sexual predators and hardened criminals.”

A government spokesperson, however, accused the union of “fear-mongering”, and said that the net job losses would be fewer than the numbers projected by the union because of attrition and job repositioning.

Sault Conservative MP, Bryan Hayes, said that he has not been told yet by his government exactly what cuts, if any, are planned to the CBSA. He said that until he is provided that information, he would reserve his comments until he has the facts in hand about what may be “hearsay”.

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