Canada's border guards are warning federal budget cuts will severely impede their ability to catch terrorists, child pornographers and other criminals slipping into the country.
Dog-sniffer teams and intelligence officers are among the more than 1,300 jobs the Customs and Immigration Union says will be eliminated at the Canada Border Services Agency.
Jean-Pierre Fortin, the union's national president, delivered the most alarming language of any public-service leader to date in describing the fallout of the Conservative government's 2012 budget cuts. He called the cuts a direct attack on Canada's national security.
"These proposed budget cuts would have a direct and real impact on Canadians and our communities across the country," said Mr. Fortin, who has worked for 30 years as a border guard. "More child pornography entering the country, more weapons, illegal drugs, will pass through our borders, not to mention terrorists and sexual predators and hardened criminals."
Speaking Thursday at a news conference on Parliament Hill, Mr. Fortin said the cuts will also lead to longer wait times at land and air borders.
Mr. Fortin said the CBSA's intelligence unit will be cut in half, meaning front-line border guards will have lower quality information in their database to nab suspected criminals. As an example, he said intelligence officers can flag travellers who often visit countries that are frequently visited by child pornographers.
The veteran border guard said it appears Canada is quietly abandoning border security and leaving it up to the Americans.
The federal budget offered little hint that cuts at CBSA would cause alarm. The budget said $143-million would be cut from its $1.7-billion annual budget by streamlining "internal services and low-performing processes."
In response to the union's claims, the Conservative government insisted that Canada's border "will remain closed to criminals and terrorists," and that the CBSA is finding savings after receiving large budget increases in recent years.
Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner, the parliamentary secretary to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, accused Mr. Fortin of fear mongering.
Both she and Mr. Toews's office lashed out at Mr. Fortin personally, claiming his main motivation for criticism is that the government is cutting a $1-million "slush fund" in which taxpayers subsidized the salaries of union executives.
"I have to wonder if he's concerned about his slush fund. Is that his motivation?," she said. "For him to speak that kind of language is grandstanding."
Ms. Hoeppner said the actual job losses will be closer to 200, but neither she nor Mr. Toews's office were immediately able to provide a breakdown of staffing plans that would support that claim.
Reached by phone for his response, Mr. Fortin called the government's comments a "cheap shot." He says his salary is entirely paid by union dues and will not be affected by any cuts.
He said the government is referring to an announcement this week that regional union leaders at CBSA will no longer be allowed to do union work during their regular working hours. However given the expected labour issues that will be playing out over the next three years at the CBSA, Mr. Fortin says he questions whether the change will actually be implemented.