Guards vow to 'shut the border down' as tensions soar during Toronto Pearson Airport protest

Border guards vowed to “shut the border down” — or come as close to it as they legally can — at a demonstration at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport Monday.

The demonstration was a show of resolve before the unions that represent some 8500 Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) officers and customs officials are in a legal right to strike position on Friday.

“We screened every traveller for COVID, we kept the border running, our employer won’t even speak to us at the bargaining table,” said Mark Weber, the national president of the Customs and Immigration Union.

That union, and the Public Service Alliance of Canada, say they have the right to strike as of August 6, just days before Canada reopens its borders to vaccinated U.S. travellers.

“We’ve been without a contract for three years,” said Frances Baroutoglou, Toronto’s CIU France president. “Through COVID we’ve continued to keep the border safe. We’ve taken on extra duties. We want a fair contract.”

Dozens of workers, wearing sandwich boards and carrying banners, chanted, “Shut it down! Shut it down!” as they walked around an entrance to the airport Monday afternoon.

“Come Friday, we’re going to wreak havoc on the border,” said Baroutoglou in to the microphone.

It’s not yet clear what the union’s strategy will be if it comes to a strike. There are more than 1200 entry points across Canada that could see an impact.

But despite the rhetoric, many border workers could be deemed essential, meaning they could slow, but not stop, their work.

“The borders will function but there will be a disruption,” Baroutoglou said in an interview. “We’ll be in a position where we can work to rule. Doing our job but only to the letter of the law.”

At issue, according to a public interest commission report, is wages. The employer has posed 2.8, 2.2, and 1.5 per cent increases in the first three years of a settlement.

It says that’s in line with 50 recent settlements in the public service.

But the unions want 4.4 per cent on top of that, arguing they need to catch up to other law enforcement agencies like the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The employer rejects the comparison.

Other issues include reducing on-the-job harassment, giving time to practice with firearms, and a guarantee no officer will work alone.

“We need to make sure people feel safe at work,” said Baroutoglou.