Union, government trade shots over border security cuts
Published Thursday, April 12, 2012 10:38PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 8:00AM EDT
The union representing Canada's customs agents and border guards says cuts at the Canada Border Services Agency threaten public safety, while a Conservative MP accuses the union of fear mongering.
The Customs and Immigration Union said the proposed cuts will lead to more drugs, weapons and child pornography getting into the hands of street gangs and criminals.
"The reductions are a direct attack to our national security and public safety," the national president of the Customs and Immigration Union, Jean-Pierre Fortin, told reporters in Ottawa Thursday.
But Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner, parliamentary secretary to the minister of public safety, said Fortin "sounded quite extreme, fear-mongering," and there was "a bit of grandstanding going on."
The Conservative government announced in the recent federal budget its intention to slash 19,200 jobs from the federal public service by 2015 as part of an effort to cut $5.2 billion in spending.
CBSA has been told to cut its budget by $143 million over the next three years. More than 1,100 CBSA employees were given notice Wednesday that their jobs are now on the line.
Fortin said 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."
Fortin also disputed the federal government's contention that average Canadians won't be directly affected. He says the government is planning to cut 325 front-line officers.
"These cuts will also have a real impact on the wait times at our borders and airports," Fortin stressed.
He also said the cuts threaten Canada's public safety and national security.
"What the government made us to believe here about the budget cuts not having an impact on direct service provided to our community is wrong. They've been misleading us," Fortin said.
Fortin says the budget cutbacks would mean that as many as 100 jobs in the intelligence service at CBSA would be cut across the country. He says intelligence service agents are those responsible for keeping an eye out for "hardened criminals," such as sexual predators.
"If the massive cuts go through, there will be little -- and in some cases, no -- investigation or surveying being done to keep these criminals out of the country and out of our communities," Fortin said.
But Hoeppner said that the number of jobs being discussed is not in terms of net jobs. "There are not going to be 1,000 to 1,300 net jobs lost. There's going to be some that will be gone through attrition and some through shifting around to other positions," she said.
Hoeppner also argued that the proposed cuts will not reduce the number of frontline officers that keep borders safe. "The cuts that we're talking about will not affect national security and they certainly will not affect the job and the priority that we've made at the borders," she said.
She maintained that the proposal amounts to trying to make the border more efficient. "We wanted to cut the fat. We wanted to make sure that taxpayer's dollars are being well-used."
According to Hoeppner, taxpayers' dollars are being wasted by the very union that is opposing the cutbacks.
"That union particularly has a fund of close to $1 million to pay for union staff to do union work. Every other union pays for those kinds of costs out of union dues, not out of the taxpayers' dollars. That's something that we think CBSA and that taxpayer should not be responsible for," Hoeppner said.
"You can almost see the desperation," she added of Fortin. "Because he's trying to protect his union funds that he's had access to."
Hoeppner suggested that measures like streamlining the way cruise ships are cleared could also save money.
"Cruise ships are costing taxpayers almost $5 million a year because when a cruise ship comes into the country they have to stop and clear the border at every single location they stop at in Canada. It's a waste of money; we can clear them at one border crossing and let them continue with their legitimate travel in Canada," she said.
Hoeppner maintained that the government's priority has always been investing in the country's borders, saying, "We've hired close to 2,000 more border guards, and we've also invested in other ways in our border crossing."
Fortin, speaking on Power Play, insisted that he is not exaggerating the impact the cuts will have on border safety, although he acknowledged that the Harper government has boosted staffing.
"I'm the first one to recognize that," he said. "But we're turning around and we're saying, suddenly out of nowhere, ‘You know what? Enough of that. We're going to be cutting and reducing their budget.' Are they telling us they did the wrong thing arming our officers, making our borders more secure?"