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Border workers union calls on Ottawa to scrap ArriveCan app

Customs and Immigration Union says ArriveCan application, chronic understaffing leading to travel delays at border crossings this summer
Canadian border crossing of the Sault Ste. Marie Internal Bridge. Kenneth Armstrong/SooToday

The union representing frontline workers at Canada’s border crossings is calling on the federal government to address ongoing travel delays by hiring more staff and eliminating the ArriveCan application. 

The Customs and Immigration Union (CIU) — which also represents a number of frontline workers employed by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) at the Sault Ste. Marie border crossing — is taking issue with CBSA’s recently-announced Summer Action Plan for 2022, which the union says lacks any long-term fixes to address the lengthy delays and staff shortages. 

CIU Local 26 President Andrew Wiersema says that while border crossings in northern Ontario aren’t necessarily the busiest border crossings in the country, CBSA workers in Sault Ste. Marie and other northern border crossings are impacted by the continued use of the ArriveCan app. 

“The reality is there’s a lot of processing at the border, and we just hope that everyone can bear with us. It’s a very difficult time,” said Wiersema, speaking with SooToday from Fort Frances, Ont. “We don’t like the use of the ArriveCan application.”

Wiersema says processing travellers via ArriveCan is a lot of work for frontline border crossing workers who are already operating short staffed.

According to CIU estimates, there is a total deficit of 1,000 to 3,000 officers at all levels of border operations. 

“We have to go hands-on with a lot of people to try to assist them. There’s not a lot of discretion,” he said, adding that there are some ArriveCan exemptions such as cognitive disability or identified system outage. “If you’re elderly and not good with computers or smartphones, then that’s not an exemption. 

“So, it’s slowing things down on the back end. It’s taking a lot of time.”

The union says that CBSA’s Summer Action Plan is meant to relieve summertime pressures on border services, but it fails to address chronic understaffing and the use of the ArriveCan app. 

“Instead, the plan focuses on poorly planned half-measures including mandatory overtime for officers, suspending non-essential training and exercises, lengthier assignments, reallocating dedicated enforcement teams, and even reducing or outright denying discretionary leave,” reads a recent CIU news release.