TWO of the Oct. 19 federal election northwestern B.C. candidates have weighed in on a change at the Stewart border crossing with one pledging a return to previous service and the other saying security will be maintained.
At issue is a telephone reporting system installed at the border earlier this year for the eight-hour period from midnight until 8 a.m.
It replaces what had been a full service presence by Canada Border Services Agency agents at the post between Stewart and Hyder, Alaska.
People wishing to enter the country during that eight-hour period now phone an agent on duty in Beaver Creek, Yukon in order to be cleared.
The move has been criticized by the border agents’ union, the Customs and Immigration Union, which says it opens up a security threat.
Incumbent Skeena – Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen says a NDP government would restore 24-hour service.
“This decision by the Conservative government has taken a toll on families and the local economy in Stewart and on our friends in Hyder, [Alaska] and poses major risks to public safety in the event of an emergency,” said Cullen.
He said the decision early this year to first close the border between midnight and 8 a.m. and then amended in the spring to install a phone was done without speaking to local residents.
But Conservative candidate Tyler Nesbitt said the border services agency “will ensure that security is maintained while making legitimate travel more convenient.”
“Outside of regular hours, special accommodation is made for emergency service vehicles and locals can report remotely outside of regular hours,” he said.
It’s a position different from one which Nesbitt took in February of this year on his Facebook page.
Then Nesbitt was calling on the federal government to reverse the decision to close the border during the overnight period.
“After speaking with local residents and business owners it is crystal clear that these changes will have a net-negative impact on business and tourism,” said Nesbitt in his post.
“My opposition to this change will likely not sit well with bureaucrats in Ottawa – and so be it. I’m looking out for the interests of our local communities and will go to bat for them regardless of who’s in power.”
“I stand by my recent statement which simply lays out the facts of how the border currently operates,” said Nesbitt in a subsequent statement
The Customs and Immigration Union criticism of the telephone reporting system centres on the inability of a border agent on the other end of the phone to know exactly what is going on.
“But they don’t know who they’re speaking with and they’re clearing them without knowing how many people there might actually be there or what they have,” said union president Jean-Pierre Fortin who toured the northwest last week.
Fortin said there were cameras at the border but they do not broadcast live and only record for later viewing.
If the border services agency told people this was a way to save money, then that isn’t the case either, Fortin continued.
“What they have is two officers on standby. They’re paying them a premium. Frankly we don’t know where the savings is,” said Fortin.
Those officers would then be called out if the officer at Beaver Creek in the Yukon felt a physical examination was in order.
Having those two officers at the border would be just as economical, Fortin said.
“This is all ludicrous right now.”