The union representing Canada's border agents is hoping money allocated to combatting the country's overdose crisis will go toward hiring full-time chemists to screen for fentanyl and other deadly drugs at major mailing centres and ports of entry.
Most fentanyl shipments coming into Canada originate in China and first arrive at the Vancouver International Mail Centre. A pilot project launched last fall at the facility sees chemists conduct on-site testing and analysis of items suspected to contain fentanyl in a safe examination area where ventilation is controlled.
Jean-Pierre Fortin, national president of Customs and Immigration Union, which represents employees of the Canada Border Services Agency, said he is hopeful that any funds from Ottawa earmarked for the CBSA will go toward making the pilot permanent. He would also like to see similar initiatives at the major mailing centres in Montreal and Toronto.
"[Border agents in Vancouver] are in a place where the ventilation is controlled. All the measures are in place there to make sure that these packages are being manipulated very safely," Mr. Fortin said. "But obviously the two other places, there are still huge concerns that are still arising. So they're waiting to be treated the same."
The federal budget unveiled this week allocates $231.4-million over five years to the overdose crisis, including $150-million in emergency funding to provinces and territories. An unspecified amount will go toward "equipping border agents with detection and identification tools to intercept fentanyl and other substances at ports of entry."
In the United States, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents use X-rays, specially trained dogs and various hand-held devices to detect fentanyl. The agency is also looking at getting advanced electronic data to flag potentially suspicious packages before they arrive, such as those that come from an address linked to the fentanyl trade, said Jason Givens, a CBP spokesman based in Seattle. The agency seized 952 pounds of fentanyl from mail facilities and ports of entry in the 2017 fiscal year, up from 440 pounds in fiscal 2016.
Neither the CBSA nor Public Safety Canada would make a representative available for an interview on the subject.
The budget did not provide a breakdown of how the money would be allocated. The Department of Finance said further details will be announced in coming weeks. Other key measures outlined in the budget include: launching a public education campaign; improving access to public health data; and expanding the federal Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP).
The SUAP is a federal contributions program delivered by Health Canada that prioritizes innovative approaches to tackling the overdose crisis. It is under this program that Mark Tyndall, executive director of the BC Centre for Disease Control and deputy provincial health officer, received approval for a pilot to distribute pharmaceutical-grade opioids (hydromorphone pills) to drug users to use as they please.