Suspicious shipping containers slipping by: Union boss

A cruise ship enters the port of Montreal, Tuesday September 18, 2012. The port is one of the...

A cruise ship enters the port of Montreal, Tuesday September 18, 2012. The port is one of the largest inland ports in the world and is the second busiest port in Canada behind Vancouver. (QMI Agency/MAXIME LANDRY/TVA)

GIUSEPPE VALIANTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:35 PM ET

MONTREAL - Employees at the Port of Montreal are allowing shipping containers deemed suspicious to pass customs without inspection because they lack resources, their union president told QMI Agency on Friday.

Customs and Immigration Union national president Jean-Pierre Fortin said at the Port of Montreal in particular, customs agents are inspecting less than 1% of cargo.

He said security at all of the country's major ports is lacking because of underfunding.

"It gets to the point where (customs agents) are letting shipping containers in (that they think are suspicious) because we don't have the manpower," Fortin said.

Fortin said intelligence reports about port security say organized crime is present at all major ports in the country: Vancouver, Halifax and Montreal.

The federal government contracted a private firm, Presidia Security Consulting, to prepare a report on port security in Canada.

The report, made public in February 2012, says one of the main criminal activities that occurs at the country's three biggest ports is the importation of chemicals from China for the production of synthetic drugs in Canada, which are then exported around the world. Another major criminal activity is the "large-scale" importation of counterfeit goods, the report says.

It also says Chinese organized criminals are big players in the country's ports.

Presidia Security Consulting did not return QMI Agency's request for comment.

Fortin said the federal government "has already started" eliminating jobs at the Canada Border Services Agency. He said the government is planning to eliminate up to 1,350 positions at CBSA.

Fortin's union represents 11,200 customs and immigration agents.

Andrew McGrath, spokesman for the office of the Public Security Minister, Vic Toews, told QMI Agency via e-mail that the government's approach to combating organized crime "is working ... we are proud of the action we have taken to date."

McGrath said that in 2011-12, the CBSA seized $1.8 billion in drugs at border crossings as well as 4,380 prohibited weapons. However, McGrath did not say what percentage of the seized contraband was confiscated at the country's ports as opposed to other border crossings. Moreover, McGrath didn't specify if the seized items represented an increased or decrease of total seized contraband over the past several years.

McGrath added that Fortin's claim that the government plans to cut up to 1,350 jobs at the CBSA is misleading. He said CBSA president Luc Portelance told employees last April that although the CBSA issued "affected letters to approximately 1,150 employees ... (the CBSA) anticipate(s) that approximately 250 employees will be laid off once all internal processes have been completed."


Videos

Photos