Border agents diverted to help with asylum influx
Union says diversion could create pressure
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.
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.