OTTAWA—Eliminating more than 1,300 jobs at the Canada Border Services Agency could hurt efforts to protect national security, according to the union that represents agency employees.
“These proposed budget cuts would have a direct and real impact on Canadians and our communities across the country,” warned Jean-Pierre Fortin, national president of the Customs and Immigration Union on Thursday.
“More child pornography entering the country, more weapons, illegal drugs, will pass through our borders, not to mention terrorists and sexual predators and hardened criminals.”
The doomsday scenario presented by the union leader stemmed from his learning that the border services agency would cut 1,026 positions nationwide over the next three years, including 124 in the Greater Toronto Area, as part of cuts announced in the federal budget.
Fortin said the union was told an additional front line positions — those filled by officers in uniform — would also be eliminated, although he had no more information about where those cuts would take place.
A spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said in a statement on Thursday that the Conservative government has increased the number of frontline border officer positions by 26 per cent since taking office six years ago and that no border services officers would be cut from ports of entry.
Julie Carmichael said Fortin’s claim that 325 border service officers would be cut is “false.”
“We are now looking at ways to make our border leaner, more efficient and faster for Canadians. We will keep it open to legitimate travel and trade, but it will remain closed to criminals and terrorists,” Carmichael wrote in an emailed statement.
“We will find savings by reducing unnecessary spending and duplication of work such as cruise ships that currently need to be cleared numerous times instead of just one. This is a needless waste of time and costs our tourism operators money.”
Fortin, whose union represents about 11,000 employees, said that half the positions in the 200-member intelligence branch will be cut, as will 19 out of 70 dog teams.
“We expect the CBSA to use the most effective tools for each job. Detector dogs are a great tool in the right circumstances, but they will no longer be used when there is a better tool available,” wrote Carmichael, who did not answer a question specifically about the impact of reducing the intelligence branch by half.
Carmichael then lashed out at Fortin by suggesting that his complaints are tied to a decision to have the border services agency stop paying the salaries of full-time union executives.
“Fortin is obviously upset that we are cutting the $1-million slush fund for big union bosses,” Carmichael wrote.
Fortin argued the cuts will impact the public, even if they do not always notice.
“They’re going to see it by the time waiting,” Fortin said when asked how the cuts would impact Canadian travellers coming to and from the United States. “What they probably won’t see is the security involved.”
The federal budget released Mar. 29 showed a $5.2-billion reduction in spending will reduce total federal employment by about 19,200, or 4.8 per cent, over the next three years.
The government expects to eliminate about 7,200 through retirement and voluntary departures, whereas the rest will come from layoffs.