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Students to protect border
Union cries foul, but kids will stand guard for thee
By Jeff Hignett
Despite an outcry from union officials, students will be permitted to replace vacationing immigration officers at the Canadian border this summer.
Last fall, in the aftermath of Sept. 11, union officials had called for a ban on summer students at border crossings.
The Canadian Employment and Immigration Union said it is concerned by the lack of professional training summer students undergo prior to working at the border for the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, said Cres Pasucci, CEIU president.
"We need to make sure that someone with expertise is working there," Pasucci said, noting the need to ease post-Sept. 11 concerns that terrorists could be crossing the Canada/United States border.
Pasucci said his department is committed to full training for employees for a short period of time, but believes Canada Customs should require a long-term commitment on behalf of employees.
"There would be better consistency without students," he said, suggesting students be hired as apprentices and perhaps later as full-time employees if they are successful.
However, Canada Customs believes employing students is nothing to be concerned about, said Colette Gentes-Hawn, head of national media relations for Canada Customs.
The summer student program has been in place since 1960 and, although security is a primary concern, the students come from excellent educational backgrounds, including some with degrees in criminology, Gentes-Hawn said.
The customs office ensures students undergo three weeks of training prior to working, followed by constant training on the job and close supervision, she explained, adding many students return year after year.
Mike Murphy, a fourth-year English student at Western, said he worked two summers for customs at the Sarnia/Port Huron border and agreed more training for students is necessary.
"We took a crash course as a student and, given the amount of duties, the training is too short," he said.
"Immigration officers have to confiscate drugs and guns and make arrests, so there should be a significant amount of training," Murphy said, noting full-time officers receive pepper spray, batons and bullet-proof vests none of which are given to summer students.
"I thought I could do a good job of it with training, but I wasn't nearly as well-qualified as a regular officer," he added.