According to documents shared with CBC News, an investigation into operations at one of the busiest ports of entry of the Canadian Border Services Agency found instances of harassment, racism and homophobia.
The third party review looks at CBSA’s Cornwall. The office spans New York State and Akwesasne First Nation-Mohawk territory, including islands in the St. Lawrence River and across the Canada-US border.
“During the review process that took place from March to June this year, employees at the Cornwall Port of Entry told us that they face many challenges while working hard every day to conduct business,” CBSA President John Osofsky (John Osofsky) Ossowski) said in a statement. Memo to employees today.
“Many people have reported disturbing and unacceptable workplace behavior, including racism, discrimination, abuse, harassment and preferential treatment.”
Earlier this year, the research company ParriagGroup interviewed former and current employees of the office and conducted an online survey, “to ensure that the working conditions of the Cornish POE are healthy for the employees and to help with Akwesasne First Nation’s important reconciliation work,” report slide obtained by CBC News.
The report’s findings point out that “harassment, racism, and homophobia have occurred both internally and externally” and “fear of retaliation.”
Researchers also listened to employees on the need to increase accountability and mental health support.
CBC News asked whether the allegations involved conflicts between CBSA staff or with the public, and asked for more details on allegations of racism and harassment.
A senior CBSA official said that the review did not involve specific details because the researchers only provided aggregated data to the agency to protect those who spoke publicly.
“However, we have enough information to start asking more acute questions,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
“We are still conducting follow-up investigations and will take disciplinary actions as needed.”
CBSA investigates allegations of abuse
ParriagGroup recommends that CBSA ensure that all violations of the Code of Conduct are documented and clearly stated to employees that there will be consequences.
It also recommends more training on positive workplace culture and Aboriginal culture, especially Akwesasne Mohawk culture.
CBSA stated that since receiving the report, it has launched a separate investigation into potential abuse of power and sexual harassment, and encourages employees to submit formal and more detailed allegations without fear of retaliation.
It also promised to strengthen the presence of its senior management staff in the border crossing office and introduced a human resources worker with a background in conflict management to talk to employees.
CBSA officials said they are grateful to the staff who bluntly expressed their concerns.
“This is what we encourage, and we ask for it, because it is very important for us to ensure that our employees work in a healthy environment and that they work in an environment that can support a full reconciliation,” the official said.
For a long time, the CBSA transit has been a stimulus for Akwesasne. In 2009, community members held a six-week standoff near the Kawehno:ke (Cornish) post in Mohawk territory to protest the armed border guards.
Last year, a domestic lane was opened for motorists driving directly between Kawehno:ke and Cornwall to facilitate transit.
According to 2018 data, more than 1.5 million passengers were processed at the Cornwall border crossing, of which more than 1 million were residents of the Mohawk community in Rigi, Quebec. And Akwesasne.
Due to the unique location of Akwesasne, the Cornwall border crossing provides residents with a dedicated priority lane.