- 2015 Federal Election
Documents shed light on seizures, complaints at Osoyoos border crossing
American border guards at the Osoyoos land crossing made fewer seizures and generated fewer complaints than their Canadian counterparts did in 2011, according to a Western News analysis.
For the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2011, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents stationed at the crossing were the subjects of 18 complaints and made 123 seizures, according to documents provided through freedom of information legislation.
Their counterparts from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) sparked 22 complaints and made 175 seizures during the 2011 calendar year, according to similar documents obtained under this country’s access to information law.
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All 24 complaints (see synopsis on page 4) against CBSA officers at the Osoyoos crossing were relatively minor in nature, according to the redacted investigation documents.
One unhappy customer said an officer “displayed attitude that ‘would have gotten him punched in the nose’ in other settings,” while another claimed she was laughed at when she asked to be served in French.
The information package did not include details about any disciplinary measures against the officers involved, due to apparent privacy issues, and the documents were redacted to make it unclear whether or not the complaints were found to have merit.
“Normally, they keep it very confidential,” said Jean-Pierre Fortin, national president of the Customs and Immigration Union, which represents about 6,000 CBSA officers across Canada.
Officers who are the focus of a complaint and found to be at fault face a range of discipline, from verbal reprimands to dismissal, said Fortin, adding his members are seen in the same light as police “who are exposed probably in the same way we are.”
The CBSA said in a statement that 550,849 people entered Canada through the port of Osoyoos in 2011 and that its employees “are held to a very high standard.”
“Any behaviour that falls short of this expectation is addressed immediately,” the statement continued, and “employees are subject to the same laws as all Canadians.”
The CBP office did not provide information about the nature of the complaints nor disciplinary action against the officers involved, citing privacy provisions of its freedom of information law.
However, the 18 complaints represent grievances from just a fraction of the 512,520 people who passed through the Osoyoos crossing into the U.S. in 2011, noted Ronald Arrigoni, the CBP’s regional port director.
Arrigoni added that his officers also refused entry to 874 people that year and the people who were turned around likely lodged some of the complaints.
“When you’re going to send 874 people back, there are going to be people who aren’t happy. That’s just the nature of it,” he said.
Regardless, Arrigoni added, anyone who feels wronged by an officer at the border should go into the CBP office there and ask for the boss.
“We take every complaint seriously. And if anybody has an issue we always encourage them to speak to a supervisor no matter what.”
CBSA staff seized 175 items headed for Canada worth about $656,000 in 2011, according to the documents. Drugs were the most commonly seized item, accounting for 49 of the grabs. Marijuana was taken 18 times while 26 other drug seizures were classified as “other.”
The next most commonly intercepted items were vehicles, trailers and parts, accounting for a total of 28 seizures, followed by prohibited weapons, including switchblades, revolvers and stun guns, which were nabbed 16 times.
Rounding out the top five seizures were alcohol, and aircrafts and boats, with eight each.
The majority of the goods seized, such as booze or vehicles, were purchased in the U.S. but taken from Canadians, the CBSA statement said, while the majority of prohibited items, like drugs or handguns, were confiscated from Americans.
CBSA officers tasked with clearing travellers “use a risk-management approach to facilitate legitimate travel and trade while focusing on higher or unknown risks,” the statement said.
It also noted that all goods purchased out of country must be declared, and failure to do so could result in permanent seizure or a penalty to get them back.
Undeclared alcohol and tobacco, however, will be seized with no terms of release.
On the other side of the line, fruits and vegetables were the most frequently seized items by CBP officers at Osoyoos during 2011. The most commonly taken items in that category were citrus fruits and tomatoes.
Luca Furnare, agricultural program manager at the CBP’s Seattle field office, said the U.S. keeps a close eye on produce entering the country to protect its own crops from pests and disease.
The ever-changing list of banned items is available online at www.aphis.usda.gov, but Furnare said the rule of thumb is easy to remember: “If you can grow it, hunt it, feed it or eat it, don’t bring it in.”
Marijuana paraphernalia, including pipes and grinders, was intercepted 30 times, making it the second most common seizure, followed by marijuana 27 times. Cuban cigars were confiscated eight times, while guns and ammunition were intercepted seven times to fill out the top five.
Arrigoni estimated about 80 per cent of the travellers his staff check at Osoyoos are Canadians who live in the area and are crossing the line to shop, so they generally know the rules.
He added that even when Washington completes the decriminalization of marijuana later this year, that doesn’t mean B.C. bud will be able to travel freely across the border.
“That’s a Washington state law and we’re a federal agency, and for us the law still hasn’t changed,” Arrigoni said.
“Marijuana’s still a violation of federal law and if anybody brings it down they’re going to be subject to federal prosecution.”