Robyn Benson, PSAC

Bordering on abuse

Ottawa Airport international arrivals.JPG

That would be some surprisingly unprofessional journalism from the Ottawa Citizen, lambasting the border security officers who are working hard to keep Canada safe.

Since 2010—that’s more than three and a half years ago—more than 1.6 million passengers* have cleared Customs and Immigration at the Ottawa International Airport. In that time, all of 45 complaints from travellers have been received. That’s not, with the greatest respect to Citizen reporter Glen McGregor, a “pattern.” 0.0028% of the total traffic is not a “pattern.” 99.998%—the passengers who didn’t complain—now, that’s a “pattern.”

Worse, we have only the complaints, and not the other side. One can never assume there isn’t one. It is impossible to tell at this point whether any or all of these complaints are legitimate. We simply don’t know. But the complaints are taken as established and true in all of their particulars. In a word, that’s unfair.

The Citizen then follows up with an oddly schizophrenic editorial. First they chase the phantom bully:

The problem with some people is that once they get a little bit of authority, they suddenly develop a power complex, feeling the need to lord it over people. We don’t need such people as front-line border officers.

Then they attempt to find their balance:

Obviously some perspective is needed here. Each year, on average, around half a million travellers from the U.S. and other international destinations arrive at the Ottawa airport. …Not all travellers are pillars of honesty and integrity…. We are talking about only 45 complaints out of the hundreds of thousands who come here. This suggests that the vast majority of CBSA officers go about their job diligently and conscientiously….

And this is how the editorial concludes:

Ottawa is the capital of the country, and the last thing we want is a reputation — perhaps even notoriety — as the city where your first impression on landing, is of the nasty border guard who digs into your private life, or makes you want to cry.

So, whether the complaints are justified or not, the Citizen feels it must wag its finger. You can never be too careful, after all. Certainly the last thing I want in Ottawa is a local newspaper that deliberately spreads nasty stories and innuendo about our front-line workers. But there you go.

In any case, what we have here at the very most is anecdotes, with no supporting information. Some support for the officers is also emerging in anecdote form. But anecdote, as they say, is not a fancy word for “data.” To build a case against CBSA on a handful of undocumented accounts is irresponsible, reckless journalism.

Regardless, dedicated CBSA officers will go on defending our country, keeping out drugs, child pornography and firearms. They deserve far better than this.

Meanwhile, the Conservative government is in the process of cutting 1,351 CBSA jobs. And, for the officers still on duty who must shoulder all that extra work, the Harper government has essentially abandoned the collective bargaining process after more than two years of pointless delays.

All that should really improve working conditions and morale. International travellers, welcome to Canada. You can look forward to being treated with professional courtesy by our CBSA officers. But if they aren’t whistling while they work, it most likely has nothing to do with you.

* Source

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on July 11, 2013 8:30 AM.

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