Name tags for Canada border agents rejected by union

Front-line, uniformed officers of the Canada Border Services Agency are now required to wear name tags. However, the union representing those members opposes the change.

Customs and Immigration Union claims CBSA's new mandatory policy puts agents at risk

The Customs and Immigration Union says identifying officers puts its members in danger. (Canadian Press file photo)

Front-line, uniformed officers of the Canadian Border Services Agency are now required to wear name tags.

"We believe that this small step will allow the millions of clients we serve to feel more comfortable in their interactions with our officers," the CBSA said in a media release. "Personalized name tags reflect our commitment to service excellence and reinforce the professionalism and integrity for which CBSA officers are known."

However, the Customs and Immigration Union, which represents those employees, opposes the change. It says identifying officers puts them in danger.

'We don't wear professional. We act it.'— Ace Essex, CIU Local 0018

"Let there be no doubt: CIU vehemently opposes CBSA’s new name tag policy. In fact, CIU has been opposed to the policy since learning of the agency’s intent to implement it," the union’s national president, Jean-Pierre Fortin, wrote in a memo to members. "CIU believes that wearing name tags exposes our members to unnecessary risks.

"We also told management that they should not be surprised by a serious push-back from many of our members who fear for their safety and health and who are determined to pursue every redress option available."

The agency said officers process more than 96 million travellers, 13.5 million commercial releases and 30 million courier shipments annually.

"This CBSA initiative will in no way make the interactions with our clients more comfortable or professional," CIU Local 0018 Windsor district branch president Ace Essex said in an email to CBC News. "It should go without saying that our concerns are not with the vast majority of those we encounter whom are law abiding good people.

"We don't wear professional. We act it." 

Essex claims some members are so concerned for their safety they have started using pseudonyms on Facebook so they can't be found online.

Policy to 'modernize uniform'

"The first experience that many people have with Canada happens at a point of entry, interacting with a border services officer. In many ways, this makes our [officers] the first face of Canada," the agency’s release said. "In an effort to improve the public's recognition of the agency, over the past several years we have undertaken efforts to strengthen our brand and modernize officer uniforms."

Fortin said in the membership "should be reminded of the ‘obey now, grieve later’ approach" of the union.

Fortin said the union has hired counsel who "explored the areas of health and safety, collective bargaining, and privacy."

For nearly five years, the Toronto Police Association fought similar policy. It lost its battle in 2011 when the Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled that name tags did not present a danger.

"Expert evidence ... did not establish that there was an increased risk of harm to members of the [Toronto Police Service] from the wearing of name tags," the board concluded.

Ninety Toronto police officers were disciplined for removing their name tags during the G20 weekend in 2010.

Many officers did not wear name tags on their uniform during the summit, which in some instances made it difficult to identify them in photos and footage during subsequent reviews into police actions..

Front-line members of the RCMP, Canadian Forces, Correctional Service Canada and United States Customs and Border Protection already wear name tags.

Lawyer calls it 'good policy'

Tom Wienner is a U.S. lawyer representing three Canadian women who earlier this year filed lawsuits alleging "sexual molestation" by U.S. female border guards at the Canada-U.S. border near Windsor, Ont.

He called name tags "good policy."

"I think it would be a good idea, frankly. It would make it easier for people who have issues with or complaints about people they're dealing with," Wienner said.

He doesn't believe but can't say for certain that the U.S. officers accused were wearing name tags.

"None of the women I’m representing knew the names of the officers they encountered," he said.