‘This is an extremely regressive step’: dozens protest Bill C-23 in Vancouver

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Dozens of union members have held a rally at Canada Place, protesting against Bill C-23 claiming it’ll deny Canadian workers jobs.

The bill expands the powers of US customs officers doing pre-clearance screening at Canadian airports and other departure points. Workers claim it gives US Homeland Security too much power over Canadian workers’ jobs.

“If the Canadian government says ‘you’re OK to work in Canada,’ the US government should have no say in it,” says Rob Ashton, President of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Canada (ILWU), who believes workers have been let down by the Trudeau government.

Mitch Kovats works as a longshoreman loading logs and is concerned about the bill’s impact on those in the transportation industry. “And I just don’t think that’s right, that Americans have any say whether or not we can work on Canadian soil.”

Others are also concerned the bill will allow strip searches of workers.

“Especially as a female worker,” says Larissa Sampson, a union member. “The part about being strip-searched by American border security in my place of work is absolutely terrifying, on Canadian soil.”

She adds most of her work in the summer months happens on the cruise ship terminals, and worries the bill will affect her employment. “So that is 100 per cent in the jurisdiction at this point of the border security of the Americans once we are putting this into place.”

First tabled in Parliament in June last year, Bill C-23 has now received royal assent, and will soon become law.

The BC Federation of Labour is lending its support to protesters. Union President Irene Lanzinger joined the dozens of demonstrators, saying the bill is backward.

“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau likes to paint himself as a progressive,” she says. “This is an extremely regressive step in terms of our basic human rights.”

Lanzinger says ILWU has the backing of the hundreds of thousands of BC Federation of Labour members. “And I will also go so far as to speak for the 3.3 million members of the Canadian Labour Congress. The only way we win these fights is through our solidarity, our unity, our commitment to each other. Those are our fundamental principles in the labour movement, and we commit those workers and all of our energies to supporting the ILWU in this fight.”

However, ILWU workers say it’s not too late to pressure the federal government into changing some aspects of the law during the regulatory phase.

Civil Liberties

There are implications in this bill for travellers as well, according to Tim McSorley with the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group.

He says Canadian travellers at pre-clearance checkpoints who don’t like the way an interview with a US customs agent is going can no longer walk away.

“They’d be able to question you until they determine why you don’t want to cross. And if you don’t tell the truth or refuse to answer, that would be considered an offense and could lead to suspicion of other offenses,” he says.

If a passenger is strip searched by an agent, McSorley says the bill would limit the ability of a Canadian traveller to make a claim in court.

The bill would also give Homeland Security agents the ability to carry guns in Canadian ports, McSorley says.

“Right now, Canada doesn’t have any pre-clearance areas in the United States, but since C-23 has passed, Canada will now be able to negotiate to set up those areas there.”

These areas could also pose an issue for permanent residents, as they may be denied entry and told to try again at a land crossing, which may be far from the port they were trying to return from.

Should Canadian border agents share the power of their American counterparts, McSorley says he’s not sure Americans would be very happy to know that.

“And I’m not sure they really understand that is a possibility.”

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