Ottawa’s decision to lift travel restrictions and make ArriveCAN optional may be a cause for celebration in the travel industry, but the grass may not be greener on the other side – at least right now, says the head of the union that represents Canada's customs and immigration officers.
Mark Weber, national president of the Customs and Immigration Union, warned Tuesday (Sept. 27) that if travel volumes suddenly spike substantially, there will be "significant delays” at Canada's border points.
Weber appeared at a House of Commons committee meeting yesterday that looked at the controversial ArriveCAN app, which, for more than two years now, has been used for providing travel and public health information for entry into Canada.
The cabinet order mandating vaccine requirements and use of ArriveCAN for incoming travellers expires this week and will not be renewed, federal officials announced on Monday (Sept. 26).
The policy changes come into effect on October 1, 2022. Also, from that date, travellers will also no longer be required to wear masks on planes and trains.
But Weber said Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) needs thousands more officers to fulfil its mandate, especially as demand for travel is expected to rise as more Canadians regain their travel confidence.
Weber is urging Ottawa to hire additional staff to keep crowds moving at the border, instead of relying on the “ill-designed” ArriveCAN app.
“As far as border officers are concerned, the last months have shown that ArriveCAN fails to facilitate cross-border travel, while doing very little to address the severe gaps in border security that are plaguing our country,” Weber said, as reported by the Canadian Press.
"The reality is really bleak"
Weber said it's "hard to convey the relief that border officers across the country must be feeling" now that ArriveCAN will no longer be mandatory.
"While border officers take great pride in their duty to serve the Canadian public, I know with great certainty that none of them imagined the best use of a trained law enforcement officer would be to provide IT support," Weber said.
The union president said ArriveCAN is part of a "pattern of overreliance on automated technologies" that includes primary inspection kiosks and eGates.
"What I urge the government and the agency to do now is to turn their attention to the severe deficit in personnel afflicting border services throughout the country," Weber said. "The reality is really bleak."
He also stressed that staffing shortages at the border aren’t going away, calling the labour situation "severe" all across the country.
Weber’s words conjure up reports from earlier this year when Canada ended its pre-departure testing policy and a tidal wave of Canadians suddenly began travelling again.
The strong demand was great for business, except Canada’s airports – largely Toronto Pearson International – weren’t property equipped for the volume as they grappled with pandemic-era labour shortages and other inefficiencies.
This wasn’t just a Canada thing either. Many airports around the world experienced a similar shock.
The long line-ups, delayed and cancelled flights and misplaced luggage that followed became the focus of ongoing media stories that ran through the spring and summer months.
Weber said the union wasn't consulted when ArriveCAN was first introduced in April of 2020 and it hasn't been consulted about what happens next when the app becomes optional.
"We're in a place now where if travel does start to significantly increase, we're going to see significant delays at our borders,” he said.