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New Customs facility opens with quiet fanfare

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A procession of officers proudly marching behind a Canadian flag marked the opening of the new Canada Customs and Immigration facility here last Thursday afternoon.

“The day’s finally here and we’re quite excited,” said Greg Mercure, chief of operations for Canada Customs.

Like touring a home with proud new owners, Mercure was quick to apologize for the half-opened boxes that still littered the floor. “It will take us a couple of weeks to get it all in its proper places,” he said.

Still, Mercure is proud of all aspects of the new facility on Church Street—from the colour scheme he helped pick out to the ergonomically-designed booths.

“We’re the first Customs point in the country that has electronically-adjustable work surfaces in the booths,” Mercure boasted while demonstrating the moveable desk which raised up with a soft electronic hum.

Green lights blinked over only two of the four lanes on the checkpoint’s first day of operation. Technicians were set to hook up equipment in the centre lanes over the weekend.

“By the middle of [this] week, all four lanes will be fully functional,” Mercure said.

The checkpoint’s lanes are the crowning touch for the new facility.

“Our intent is to eliminate lineups and wait times,” Mercure said. “With the four lanes, we should be able to process traffic twice as fast as the old place [on the bridge].”

The average time Customs officials spend with each car is 30-45 seconds.

“That’s eight vehicles a minute, and at that rate, we’ll be able to keep up with traffic flow,” Mercure enthused. “Hopefully, those two-hour waits in the past are a thing of history.”

Also excited about moving into the new digs is Harvey Ossachuk, manager of Citizenship and Immigration, who noted Immigration offices in two buildings are now consolidated into one.

“The size is a little smaller,” he admitted.

On a tour of the new facility, Ossachuk pointed out the video conference room where his staff will be able to communicate with officials in Toronto for deportation cases.

The video conference room is just down the hall from where seized goods will be held. With its impenetrable walls and compartmentalized light green safe, officials aim to make them as guarded as Fort Knox.

Mercure explained safety is key to the new facility, and it seems everywhere you go requires a special key. Each room requires an individual officer’s key card to enter, and 10-12 security cameras mounted inside and outside the building will be watching to see that no one slips past.

Local MP Robert Nault, the minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, also was happy to see the new Customs and Immigration building opened here.

“This project will enhance the appearance of our border crossing when our friends form the south come to visit during their vacations,” Nault said in a press release issued Friday.

“Not only will this enhance Fort Frances, but it will benefit all of Northwestern Ontario,” he added. “First impressions can be everything and this new facility is a step in the right direction which will enable our officials to properly welcome our guests into Canada.”

“On behalf of the Government of Canada, I would like to thank all those involved who helped bring this project to a successful conclusion,” he said.

Officers christened their new facility—complete with computer-lined counters and as yet un-scuffed floors—with an informal ceremony at 1 p.m. last Thursday.

The Canadian flag, which stubbornly held tight to the old flagpole until pliers removed it, was carried by officers from the bridge to the new facility.

There, staff gathered as it was hoisted in front of their new home and then the first car was invited to pass through the checkpoint.

Nettie Amorde of Fort Frances has been travelling for a month. She and friend, Marvel Engler, had driven from Flint, Mich. the day before—never imagining they would be first to use the new port of entry.

Amorde was given a certificate and stuffed bear dressed as a Customs officer to commemorate the moment. But after hours of driving, she said she was just glad to be home.

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