When Catherine Renaud went over to International Falls for the day earlier this month, the Quebec resident never expected to have a problem re-entering Canada.
But on July 4, Renaud, her sister, and her husband spent three hours in line before being allowed back into the country—and all because of a shortage of Citizenship and Immigration officers here.
In a letter to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Renaud said they were referred to Immigration because her husband, who is a landed immigrant and permanent resident, also was a Chilean national.
“We waited three long hours in the office before an immigration agent finally let us enter Canada after a two-minute verification—even though, as two Canadian citizens and a permanent resident, we all three enter Canada by right,” Renaud wrote.
Renaud said the day she came through, only one immigration officer was working at the border crossing here.
“It would seem logical to avoid referring people who enter Canada by right for a secondary Immigration examination,” she argued. “Especially when the said sole immigration officer was not particularly timely in her decisions, taking more than three hours to process the five groups of people in front of us.”
Renaud is not alone in experiencing up to four-hour waits at the border here. And the Citizenship and Immigration manager for Northern Ontario said a staff shortage is causing the backlog.
“The waits have more to do with the demands on local staff in terms of the numbers that we have working presently and our capacity to move that particular traffic through in a quick fashion,” Dennis Pella said Monday.
“I am aware of the delays and we’re looking for some solutions.”
Pella said normally there are seven immigration officers working in Fort Frances but two currently are on leave.
Generally, they also bring in additional staff for the peak season but the individual usually hired in the summer has left the area to accept a position in Dryden.
“We’re in the situation in Citizenship and Immigration Canada at the present time where our human resources are stretched to the limit,” Pella said.
“We don’t have the financial capacity to hire any more people so we have to make due with the staff we have working presently.”
The staff shortage has been a concern here since May and Pella, who was in Fort Frances last week for the official opening of the new Customs and Immigration facility, witnessed the long waits firsthand.
“I’ve been told it’s been anywhere from two hours to I guess on Friday it has been as high as four or five hours,” he remarked.
Mayor Glenn Witherspoon said the lineups are a serious concern.
“It’s a big issue in that some people are asked to go in and given a number and having to wait two hours just to see someone for five or 10 minutes,” he said yesterday.
Mayor Witherspoon approached both immigration officials and local MP Robert Nault at the official opening last Wednesday to provide more staff here.
“We need more immigration staff since Sept. 11 and the extra security,” he said.
Nault said he would take the issue up with the federal Immigration minister upon his return to Ottawa.
Meanwhile, Pella said the staff shortage is being experienced right across the country.
“Fort Frances is not the only port-of-entry that’s suffering from long waits,” he noted. “My director has told me that [at] the Vancouver national airport, persons waiting to be granted landing are finding that they’re waiting up to four hours also.
“Our staff right across Canada, at a lot of locations, are finding that the volume of work [is] significantly increased. We only have so much resources,” Pella said.
A number of issues have been cited for the increased stress on immigration staff. Pella said everything from gun registrations to additional technology at border crossings are adding to the workload.
“Sept. 11 has impacted on the ports-of-entry,” he added. “I would say that the Customs officers are more vigilant and they’re referring more people into secondary examination.”
The new immigration act, which came into effect June 28, also is adding to lineups since staff still are learning how to apply the act on the job.
Locally, Pella also said staff dealing with requests for remote border crossing permits compounds the workload here.
“I’m not shying away from fact that I think we need additional help in Fort Frances,” Pella said. “Either we have additional staff to move the people or we will have to find ways of dealing with those people away from the port-of-entry.”