Border agents di­verted to help with asy­lum in­flux

Union says di­ver­sion could cre­ate pres­sure

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Canada & World - TERESA WRIGHT

OTTAWA — Border se­cu­rity of­fi­cers are be­ing di­verted from across Canada to help with an an­tic­i­pated spike in the num­ber of asy­lum seek­ers cross­ing into Que­bec.

The Canada Border Ser­vices Agency (CBSA) has sent memos across the coun­try ad­vis­ing that agents from other re­gions will be in Que­bec from May 28-Sept. 16 to help deal with the in­flux of refugee claimants cross­ing the Canada-U.S. border at un­of­fi­cial en­try points.

The mea­sure could mean staff short­ages and de­lays at ma­jor air­ports in Toronto, Mon­treal and Van­cou­ver, as well as land ports like Wind­sor and Ni­a­gara Falls, said Jean-Pierre Fortin, na­tional pres­i­dent of the Cus­toms and Im­mi­gra­tion Union.

Se­cu­rity could also be an is­sue, Fortin warned.

“The im­pact will be that there may be enough re­sources at La­colle (Que­bec), but they will cre­ate other points of pres­sure across Canada,” he said.

“The end re­sult will be that wait times will in­crease and se­cu­rity will go down.”

The in­flux of refugee claimants has been an on­go­ing pres­sure point in Que­bec for the last few months, with more peo­ple com­ing across non-of­fi­cial en­try points along the border. The RCMP in­ter­cepted 7,612 refugee claimants be­tween Jan­uary and April of this year.

Of­fi­cials are pre­par­ing for a sum­mer spike. The gov­ern­ment is set­ting up tem­po­rary hous­ing units at Saint-Bernardde-La­colle, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity where the ma­jor­ity of RCMP in­ter­cep­tions of ir­reg­u­lar mi­grants in Que­bec take place.

The short-term ac­com­mo­da­tions are meant to ease pres­sure on Que­bec’s re­sources, while plans are still be­ing de­vel­oped to “triage” in­com­ing asy­lum seek­ers in the hopes of di­vert­ing those will­ing to set­tle in ar­eas out­side Mon­treal.

But while the pres­sure re­mains sig­nif­i­cant in Que­bec, di­vert­ing border se­cu­rity of­fi­cers from other ar­eas of the coun­try will cre­ate new pres­sure points at of­fi­cial ports of en­try, es­pe­cially dur­ing the sum­mer, Fortin pre­dicted.

“You have to keep in mind that the sum­mer pe­riod is our busiest time for our of­fi­cers. Peo­ple are go­ing to the United States, Amer­i­cans are com­ing to Canada, it’s the va­ca­tion pe­riod so ob­vi­ously that’s a time we are ex­tremely busy.”

Fortin wants the gov­ern­ment to hire more staff to deal with the prob­lems, not re-de­ploy ex­ist­ing of­fi­cers. The union ar­gues it has been los­ing of­fi­cers to at­tri­tion over the last year, and that only half of those who have left have been re­placed.

The CBSA memo to em­ploy­ees was a rou­tine one sent ev­ery year to see if some em­ploy­ees are will­ing to be as­signed to an­other lo­ca­tion or work over­time dur­ing the busy sum­mer months, Pub­lic Safety Min­is­ter Ralph Goodale said Thurs­day.

“CBSA makes sure the prin­ci­pal re­spon­si­bil­ity of man­ag­ing those ports of en­try is prop­erly man­aged with the ad­e­quate staff num­bers in place to cope with the vol­umes,” Goodale said.

“The num­ber that would be re­lo­cated in this par­tic­u­lar con­fig­u­ra­tion would be very small.”

“We are go­ing to work very, very hard to keep our ser­vice stan­dards high, as we did last sum­mer very suc­cess­fully, but it’s a chal­lenge be­cause vol­umes are so large,” the min­is­ter said, re­fer­ring to the num­ber of trav­ellers through­out Canada ev­ery sum­mer.

PAUL CHIASSON THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Asy­lum seek­ers line up out­side Olympic Sta­dium near Mon­treal last Au­gust. Border se­cu­rity of­fi­cers are be­ing di­verted to help with an an­tic­i­pated in­flux this sum­mer.

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