OTTAWA – Traffic returned to normal Wednesday at the busiest trade link between Canada and the United States after some border guards refused to work over concerns a mandatory name tag requirement put their safety at risk.
Commercial vehicles and travellers entering Canada at the Ambassador Bridge port of entry in Windsor, Ont., and also at a crossing in Sarnia, Ont., faced delays throughout much of the day as border officers refused to do work as usual.
By Wednesday afternoon, the agency was reporting no delays at the Windsor crossing while the Sarnia border post saw a minor delay for travellers only.
The head of the union representing Canada’s border guards said workers are concerned that having their names on their uniforms would lead to “unnecessary” health and safety risks to a greater degree than those faced by other law enforcement agencies requiring name tags.
“They think that by exposing their names and by the fact that we’re seeing millions of passengers on a regular basis … is actually exposing them even more than police officers,” said Jean-Pierre Fortin, president of the Customs and Immigration Union, who suggested criminals at border posts could use the names on tags to track down guards.
A Human Resources and Skills Development Canada spokesman said investigators were sent to the crossings Wednesday to look into worker complaints of possible danger, but it was determined there were no safety risks.
Fortin said the union sent a notice to its members last week about the requirement, which is being implemented across Canada this week, advising concerned workers to file grievances instead of refusing to work.
“We do realize there was an impact on the traffic but the bottom line is it’s a right that they can exercise (under labour law) but the union has nothing to do with that,” he said.
Fortin said the union has since last year told the Canada Border Services Agency that front-line border workers oppose the requirement.
A spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said Wednesday that the name tag requirement is here to stay.
“The RCMP and other provincial and municipal police forces across the country provide the public with transparency through wearing name tags. CBSA should be no different,” spokeswoman Julie Carmichael said in an email.
The CBSA said in a statement that name tags are in line with similar policies in place in the Canadian Forces, Correctional Service Canada and United States Customs and Border Protection, whose frontline uniformed officers all wear name tags.
It said that any illegal actions and inappropriate behaviour “will be dealt with accordingly.”
Fortin said the union’s legal counsel is examining the name tag requirement as it reviews its options.