Controversy (and some delays) over new name tag policy for Canadian border officers

Are citizens entitled to know who they are dealing with, when interacting with government personnel and public safety officers? Do name tags put some front-line staff at unacceptable risk?

Name tags have been so prevalent in the U.S. – from the military to police departments – that the question may seem strange. Isn’t that the norm? But the issue can generate debate, as with this controversy in Canada.

The name tag dispute could mean long waits at the border. Photo: Theresa Murray, CC some rights reserved

Canada’s Minister for Public Safety, Vic Toews, issued the following statement on Tuesday regarding the Canadian Border Services Agency, the agency travelers encounter when entering Canada:

As of today, CBSA will be joining its partners such as the United States Customs and Border Protection, whose front-line uniform officers all wear personalized name tags.

Personalized name tags reflect the CBSA’s commitment to providing service excellence while reinforcing the accountability, professionalism, and integrity for which CBSA officers are known. I commend the CBSA for its continued efforts to ensure a safe, secure, and efficient border.

The CBC reported the Customs and Immigration Union objected to the new policy, saying indentifying front-line officers is potentially unsafe:

“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 CBC article explores aspects of this issue in the case of the Toronto Police Department. The Toronto Police Association opposed name tags for five years before losing that battle in 2011.

According to the same article:

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.

This post was begun on Tuesday, when the new policy was announced. By Wednesday (as reported on NCPR’s 8 o’ clock hour) some work-action slow-downs were happening at two international bridge crossings  (in Windsor, Ont., and Sarnia, Ont.).

The Canadian Boarder Services Agency had this official statement on that situation, including information on updates:

We thank you for your patience as we work to resolve this situation. We encourage all travellers to consult border wait times on the CBSA Web site at www.cbsa.gc.ca. Mobile travellers will find wait times easily accessible on our mobile Web site, or can follow us on Twitter for hourly border wait time updates at CBSA_BWT.

What’s your take on this issue? Is there a case to be made for official anonymity?

Or should personal accountability come with the uniform – which would mean name tags at the Canadian border are long over-due?

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9 Comments on “Controversy (and some delays) over new name tag policy for Canadian border officers”

  1. It has a parallel in the US with some jurisdictions making it illegal to photograph or make videos of police in the line of duty. I understand their concern that some, possibly irrational, individuals might make note of the name and then proceed to harass them as individuals for something they did in the line of duty, OTOH there is the argument that they need to take responsibility for their conduct on the job. I tend to come down on the latter side because there is already too much distrust of government and making oneself a nameless minion of bureaucracy only furthers that. Government in a democracy should never be nameless and faceless. Essentially it is us, the people, acting together for the common good. If we are to break out of this downward slide (perhaps not as pronounced in Canada as in the US) toward alienation of the public to ward the government, we need to humanize those who represent government, not make them appear more estranged from the rest of us.

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  2. Mervel says:

    Video’s yes, nametags no.

    We already have lost so much of our privacy; throw in the crazies that these guys have to deal with all day and how easy it is in today’s world to track someone down via on-line resources and I would side with the union on this one. How hard would it be for drug cartels to target individual customs officers and their family and children?

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  3. Arlo T. Ledbetter says:

    Our police here have been wearing name tags for as long as I can recall. Their names go on the tickets and court paper work. I’ve never heard of anyone being stalked or anything like that. I say the Canadian Customs boys should grow a backbone. Man up, eh?

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  4. Walker says:

    Yeah, I have trouble seeing it as reasonable to give an individual the kind of powers that border guards have, and then give them anonymity? Secret police?

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  5. mervel says:

    Badge numbers would be fine then you could identify the individual officer if there were issues. There is no need to know his family name. Its one thing to have your name on your badge in one of our little villages up here, but customs agents are dealing with international criminals, things may seem quite to us but the fact is there is a lot of major criminal networks using our border I don’t see any purpose to having the name tags.

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  6. Arlo T. Ledbetter says:

    Mervel, our border people all have name tags. There’s no difference in threat. All our local police along the border have name tags. Their cars are in most cases parked in unsecured locations, their names and addresses often found in the phone book or via internet search. It’s not like these guys are in anymore danger than on the Canuck side than here, in fact, probably less.

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  7. Mervel says:

    But I don’t think our guys should have to wear name tags either.

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  8. Marlo Stanfield says:

    I’ve seen cops in some pretty dangerous American cities, who are probably more at risk every day than a Canadian border guard, wearing nametags.

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  9. Arlo T. Ledbetter says:

    Really Mervel? So you get stopped for something and the cop gives you a real hard time, insults you, swears at you and maybe says something completely inappropriate to your wife or daughter and then drives off after refusing to ID himself. What do you do then? There are 5000 State Troopers in NY. Troopers don’t wear badges. How do you ID them? Or the cop you deal with has badge number 43869 and you report it as 43896.

    Names are a lot simpler Mervel. I appreciate your concern for them, but we don’t need secret police here in the US.

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