WINNIPEG – The Canada Border Services Agency has responded to concerns about the suspension of three Manitoba border guards who left their posts to help the RCMP by saying they can go through the normal grievance procedure.
Both Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney and Jean-Pierre Fortin, president of the Customs and Immigration Union, sent letters in August to agency president Luc Portelance outlining their concerns about the disciplinary action.
The union said Portelance replied to Fortin on Wednesday and said he wants to see the grievance move ahead quickly “so that the arguments and concerns of the officers can be heard as soon as possible.”
“Please rest assured that I share your feelings about the importance of the issue,” he wrote. “As you know, employees of the Canada Border Services Agency have access to a variety of transparent recourses to ensure their rights are respected when they challenge the disciplinary actions taken against them.
“Therefore, it would be inappropriate to intervene while the independent recourse process is underway.”
The guards left their posts at the Canada-U.S. border at Emerson a few months ago, at the request of the Mounties, to help stake out a kidnapping suspect at a bar less than a kilometre away.
READ MORE: Protests over suspension of 3 Manitoba border guards met with silence
The union said two guards kept watch over several exits while a third went into the bar. The border remained staffed by three other guards on the night shift.
The trio who helped the Mounties returned to their posts less than an hour later following the suspect’s arrest. Their actions prompted an internal investigation. Last month, the guards — who have not been identified —were suspended without pay for up to 25 days because they left their posts for an “unauthorized purpose.”
Blaney and the union argue the guards were complying with the Criminal Code which compels them to co-operate fully with law-enforcement officers.
In his Aug. 12 letter to Portelance, Blaney asked for a “report on this incident and further clarification on the policy of the agency on requests for assistance in cases such as this.”
Jason Tamming, the minister’s press secretary, said Blaney received a reply Wednesday but didn’t elaborate on whether it addressed the minister’s concerns.
“We’re concerned that disciplinary actions were taken against these border service officers,” he said in an emailed statement. “Not only do we support — but, in fact, we expect — law-enforcement officers to take action to put dangerous and violent criminals behind bars where they belong.”
READ MORE: Border guards suspended after helping RCMP in Manitoba: union
Blaney can’t intervene directly with an internal issue at the agency but will continue to express his opinion, Tamming added.
Sean Best, spokesman for the border services agency, said “for reasons of privacy” the agency can’t comment on specific disciplinary cases.
“If an employee disagrees with the decisions of management, they have the right to avail themselves of the internal recourse process,” he said in an email.
The agency declined to make anyone available to discuss its policy on providing assistance to other law-enforcement agencies.
In a letter to Portelance Aug. 25, Fortin asked the agency to reinstate the officers and suggested that its policy on co-operation with other police agencies is “flawed.” He proposed that the agency and the union study the policy to avoid confusion going forward.
Portelance did not specifically address that suggestion, Fortin said.
“On that, he was silent.”