Dealing with a 'changing clientele': life as Windsor border officer explained
WINDSOR, ONT. -- Officers with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) admit their job has, at times, been unnerving. Scary even.
“We are dealing with a changing clientele,” says Jeff Gilmore chief of operations for CBSA at the Ambassador Bridge.
Instead of happy travellers or people crossing for leisure, officers were faced with scared vacationers and essential workers.
“We had some of these healthcare workers coming back to us in tears because of what they saw in the hospitals in Michigan,” says Gilmore.
“It was hard, it was unnerving, there were some days that you know were pretty scary for me personally,” says Sydney Kale, another CBSA chief of operations.
“They (snowbirds) were, for the most part, frightened, and so were we. We didn’t know what would happen.”
“We have had travellers come who are covid positive,” says Gilmore, who quickly credits PPE - available from the outset - for keeping officers safe.
“Whether it’s the possibility of being shot at, or an infectious disease coming way, that is part of our job. I did sign up for that, so I was okay with staying,” says Kale.
CBSA officials say more than 50 times, the federal government drafted new COVID protocols.
Kale says officers had to do their homework.
“There were some times where, you know, with a few hours notice, you were quickly memorizing 25 plus pages of documents,” she says.
“In my business you don’t get too many choices,” chuckles director of Operations Joe McMahon. “The government of the day sets rules, sets orders and we’re here to order them and enforce them.”
One of the biggest, is on-site testing, rolled out in February 2021.
“Over 30 years I’ve seen a lot of different things in our agency,” says McMahon. “But I can probably honestly say, I didn’t think we’d ever be swabbing people at the port of entry.”
The officers all say they are used to making the tough decisions like turning people away or sending travellers in to pay taxes.
Denying someone entry due to COVID-19 ranks high on their list of tough calls to make, they say, but one which must be done.
“They take their frustrations out sometimes, on our officers,” says Gilmore. “It’s an important part of the job. We may not take pleasure in giving that, you know, negative news. We take pleasure in keeping our community safe.”