Union leader says Harper government’s border layoffs means more gun smuggling

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

The Tories are defending themselves over suggestions that government cutbacks at the borders will lead to more illegal handguns being smuggled into Canada.

On Monday, a top union official  said that at a time when Canadians need to be reassured everything is being done to stem the flow of illegal guns into Canada, the federal government has been laying off front line border officers.

"The fact is [Public Safety Minister] Vic Toews just cut 1,300 jobs from the Canada Border Services Agency … and there is no question that cutting those jobs makes it easier to smuggle," Jason McMichael, first national vice-president of the Customs and Immigration Union (CIU), told the Toronto Star Monday.

"He has really handcuffed our ability to stop the handguns at the border."

The criticisms come on the heels of last week's shootout in Scarborough and Toronto mayor Rob Ford's meetings this week with Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty and Prime Minister Stephen Harper about curbing gang violence.

[ Related: Toronto gun violence focus of leaders' summit ]

In recent weeks, Toronto police have indicated that about a third of the guns they seize come from domestic sources while the other two-thirds are smuggled into Canada from the United States.

But the Harper government insists they're doing their part to keep contraband guns out of the country.

In a press release sent to supporters and media, Monday night, the Tories laid out their initiatives to battle the gun smugglers.

Shameful Political Opportunism from Big Union Bosses

Today, Customs and Immigration Union Vice President Jason McMichael shamefully tried to take advantage of recent violent incidents in Toronto.  He claimed that administrative cuts to the CBSA would make it easier for thugs and criminals to get their hands on guns.

- This is a shameful attempt to fear monger and play politics with a tragedy.
- No frontline services at CBSA have been affected; in fact, our Conservative Government has increased the number of border guards by 26% over the past six years.
- Rather than engaging in fear mongering, these big union bosses should work with our Government to ensure that our border is open to legitimate trade and travel, but closed to criminals and gun smugglers.

- Our Government is committed to cracking down on the trafficking of illegal guns by criminal gangs.
- Since 2006, CBSA has seized almost 30,000 prohibited weapons (including firearms) at the border. The National Weapons Enforcement Support Team (NWEST) has seized over 35,000 imported illegal guns between 2006 and 2010.
- Our Government has added 1,030 border guards over the past six years.
- In 2006, we announced a MOU with the United States that aided criminal investigations involving firearms on both sides of the border.
- We introduced initiatives such as the Shiprider and Integrated Border Enforcement Teams (S-9).
- Our Government also introduced new travel exemptions that are allowing CBSA to focus its resources on preventing the importation of illegal handguns and other prohibited items.
- We made important legislative changes that crack down on trafficking and smuggling.

It seems there's no love lost between the Conservatives and the unions.