Customs officer union laments ‘IT consultant’ duties in ArriveCAN era

Many Canadians have experienced the clog at airports and borders in recent weeks, and there are fears that will only get worse as we enter the peak travel period.

While the easing of COVID-19 rules has offered some relief, the union for customs officers says without more staff, delays will continue.

The reality is that while the federal government did eliminate random testing this month, travellers still need to use the ArriveCAN app as part of requirements to enter this country.

Between that and automated kiosks, Customs and Immigration Union President Mark Weber says his members have found themselves doing as much tech support as they are screening passengers.

“A good percentage of people either don’t know that they have to, don’t know how to complete the [ArriveCAN] app,” Weber told CityNews in an interview.

“So what we’re seeing at the border, the few officers we have working at the front line are spending all of their time acting as IT consultants. We spend all of our time helping travellers complete the app so they can enter the country,” Weber continued.

“The knock-on effect of that is our public safety mandate, finding illegal firearms, really doing the core of what our job is, that really goes by the wayside, because all of our resources are on reducing those wait times and helping people complete the application.”

The union has called for the addition of as many as 3,000 new hires, as it bargains with the federal government over a new collective agreement.

“Land borders, airports, we’ve seen wait times of four hours or more, people stuck on airplanes before they can even get into the terminal, it’s extreme,” Weber said.

“The staffing shortages that we’re seeing now are slowly building over the years. Our front line staff has eroded and eroded. Right now, we’re looking at approximately 70 to 75 per cent of the volumes we had pre-pandemic, and even given that we’re not as busy as we were in 2019, you see how dire the situation is.”

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The union isn’t explicitly calling for the removal of the ArriveCAN app, but Weber is making the case that needs to be considered.

“We’re not public health experts,” he acknowledged.

“As things open up, and there’s less and less and less restrictions, it becomes more questionable what you need that app for, and what you’re collecting all of this data for, if you’re not doing the contact tracing and things have really opened up. So over time, I think we’re hoping the app is streamlined or eliminated, which would really help a lot.”

In the meantime, many customs officers are being mandated to work overtime, which Weber says is putting an unsustainable mental and physical strain on his members.

“By modernizing the border processing experience through the use of digital tools and technologies like ArriveCAN, the CBSA is creating streamlined processes for low-risk travellers,” said the CBSA in a statement.

“These tools ultimately allow CBSA officers to focus on higher risk activities, such as conducting secondary examinations and enforcement activities, thus improving the delivery of the Agency’s safety and security mandate. The CBSA will not compromise the health and safety of Canadians under any circumstances.”

The ArriveCAN app and masking at airports and on flights within Canada are some of the last remaining COVID-19 travel measures imposed by the federal government.


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