The president of the union representing Canada’s border guards says reducing the hours at the Stewart, B.C./Hyder, AK border is a hypocritical move for a federal government that says it places a priority on national security.
“The government right now is about to pass a bill, C-51, in regards of the concerns that the government has with the terrorists and the people who are going off-seas to get training, and meanwhile they’re reducing the hours at the border,” said Jean-Pierre Fortin, president of the customs and immigration union.
He’s been told the reduction in hours at the northwestern B.C. border crossing is one of several such moves being undertaken by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) in other parts of the country.
“There are concerns we have that when you’re closing customs or you’re reducing the hours you’re reducing the security that goes with that,” he said.
“It’s not a matter of traffic, it’s a matter of having a presence – defending the first line of defence of this country.”
Two weeks ago, it was announced that the border which connects the small communities of Hyder, AK and Stewart, B.C. would see its hours reduced beginning April 1 and would be blocked between midnight and 8 a.m.
Residents and business owners on both sides have spoken out vocally against the move, touting safety and economic issues. Tourism is the main economic driver for both towns, who promote themselves together.
But as of late last week, the CBSA was standing by its decision.
While Fortin said that the union wasn’t worried about job losses – “probably people that used to work there would be relocated” – he said the $200,000, the number that he heard would be the potential savings, isn’t worth it.
“The Canada Border Services has a budget, if I’m not mistaken, of $1.7 billion. So we think it’s nickeling and diming,” said Fortin.
Representatives from the federal public safety ministry and Steven Blaney, the minister in charge of the CBSA, refused the Terrace Standard’s request for an interview.
Skeena-Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen’s legislative assistant in Ottawa Hugh Pouliot said Cullen’s office is also questioning the cost savings.
“What we have heard from the bureaucratic side is that CBSA isn’t cutting any staff or hours at the crossing – so staffing isn’t going down in any way,” he said.
“(It’s) kind of bizarre because it’s being justified as a cost saving measure, that’s how it’s been framed, but they’re not actually reducing hours or cutting staff – so it’s unclear how they plan on saving any money.”
In a statement last week responding to questions on the potential cost savings, staffing changes, CBSA refused to provide those details, writing, “staffing figures are not disclosed to uphold officer safety and it is not the policy of the CBSA to discuss details on operational costs.”
There has not always been a Canadian presence at the border between Stewart and Hyder. At one time, people crossing into Canada were asked, via signs, to report to Canadian officials elsewhere. A toll-free phone was located at the Stewart RCMP detachment for that purpose.