Firearm requirement key reason for border staffing problem

Jul 29, 2016

There is no easy fix to the delays heading in to Canada on the region's international bridges, according to a member of Ontario's Provincial Parliament.

Wayne Gates, who represents Fort Erie and Niagara Falls, says staffing levels are unmanageable, in part because starting four months ago, border guards in Canada were required to carry firearms.

Credit File photo

"The problem that they had was some staff, because of medical or accessibility reasons, could not be certified to operate a firearm. So what happened is, they took those officers off front-line duties and this hurt the number of staff that were trained for the lanes to open the border," Gates told WBFO.

Gates says the federal government in Canada also failed to hire enough workers.

"When you have understaffing and the staffing that you have is being asked to work all the overtime and they get burned out and they're exhausted, they're going to take their days off to spend with their families," he added.

Gates says there is no quick fix to the problem because screening, hiring and training new border guards takes time. He says so far, there has been no talk in Ottawa of hiring new border guards.

Earlier this week, Assemblyman Sean Ryan called attention to the staffing issues, saying the continued bridge backups are hurting the economies in Western New York and Southern Ontario. He said he will be meeting with the Niagara region's members of Parliament to discuss the issue.

Rep. Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo) says tie-ups on local bridges are not only frustrating for travelers, they pose a serious heath risk.

"The source of what triggers asthma in kids and poor air quality is idling diesel engines. If you have volume delays because of short-staffing, that should be addressed, not only from an economic and transportation standpoint, but also a public health standpoint," Higggins said.

Higgins says he plans to reach out to his federal counterparts in Ottawa to address the ongoing situation.