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The border is no place for students: Customs Union

OTTAWA, Ont. -- Security may go out the window once summer rolls around according to the union representing customs...

OTTAWA, Ont. — Security may go out the window once summer rolls around according to the union representing customs officers.

This claim was in response to a plan to hire a fleet of “inadequately trained” students to work over the summer.

“This is not McDonald’s, where if you drop a hamburger on the floor, you can pick up another one out of the box,” says Gerry Filek, vice-president of the Customs Excise Union.

“If you allow someone dangerous or illegal into the country, it could have ramifications on your community, your citizens, your justice system and your entire social system.”

Full-time officers have serious concerns with a federal employment program, which hires about 1,000 students each summer to work at border crossings, marine centres and airports, Filek adds.

The students, most of them university age, assist in the primary screening process, which means they’re the first point of contact at borders and other crossings.

But with a maximum of three weeks of training or less before they start work, students might not be the best people for the job stresses Filek.

“In many cases, these students are alone or in a position where they have to make critical decision,” he says. “If they’re dealing with a person who could be a terrorist or someone with an outstanding warrant … a student may not know what to do.”

Full-time officers receive eight weeks of training, including instruction in pepper-spray, baton and personal protection techniques. Citing a recent Auditor General’s report, Filek claims students may not receive any such training at all.

“Say (a student is) alone and searching a drug trafficker’s vehicle … and that person decides their freedom is more important than getting arrested,” says Filek. “I’d be very worried about the student’s safety.”

But a spokesperson for the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency says this would never happen.

“Students are not left alone — there’s always an experienced customs officer available to help them,” says Emilia Kotris, a CCRA spokesperson. “And obviously the full-time … officers will have the more detailed work of the secondary inspections.”

While a U.S. Customs official declined to comment specifically on the Canadian student employment program, he said American border crossings employ student interns, but only in administrative positions.

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