03/16/2012 12:25 EDT | Updated 05/16/2012 05:12 EDT

Canadian Border Policy Calls For Politeness


Canadian border officers are trained to protect the country's sovereignty and secure the border, but are instructed to always do so in a courteous manner, a union official says the same week U.S. border officials were accused of being overly aggressive.

This policy revelation comes after it was learned this week that three women launched lawsuits alleging they were molested by U.S. border officials at the Windsor, Ont., to Detroit crossing.

Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers have a reputation of being friendlier than their American counterparts.

Ace Essex, president of the Customs and Immigration Union's Local 16, which represents workers in Windsor, said maintaining a balance between security and courtesy is important.

"All of my members are highly trained professionals who take pride in the work they do," said Essex.

The website of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), part of the Department of Homeland Security, says it has a "priority mission of keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S." and "a responsibility for securing and facilitating trade and travel while enforcing hundreds of U.S. regulations, including immigration and drug laws."

When contacted by CBC News about how U.S. customs officials are trained to deal with people crossing the border, CBP said it "stresses honour and integrity in every aspect of its mission." Asked to comment on the lawsuits, the CBP added: "We do not tolerate misconduct or abuse within our ranks, and we fully co-operate with all investigations of alleged unlawful conduct, on or off duty, by any of our CBP employees and contractors.”

'They're very diligent'

Former CBSA agents and U.S. visitors told CBC News that the politeness on the Canadian side is evident at crossings.

The former employees, who asked not to be identified, said the agency's message was clear from the top down: they were representatives of Canada and while they were to uphold the laws, they were to do so as politely as possible. They are, after all, the first face of Canada, they said.

Some visitors to Canada say they appreciate the politeness.

Max Siegle is from Livonia, Mich., and married a Windsor woman, so frequently crosses the border. He said Canadians are definitely more polite.

"I've been complaining to my wife for several weeks now about the change in attitude on the U.S. It's not right," he said.

Siegel called Canadian border officers "professional" and "outstanding." He also said, "They're very diligent."

Anthony Holt, who is from Detroit, also crosses the border frequently.

"I just think it's a different view we take. I don't think it takes anything away from what they do here," he said of the Canadian customs officers. "But my preference is [that] I'm much more comfortable, as a customer, coming to this side [of the border].

"If you want me to compare it to guys on our side, I think they have more of a marketing, customer-friendly approach over here."

That doesn't mean the officers are the equivalent of friendly department store greeters.

Officers are armed, and on Thursday, the service announced two individuals on the CBSA's most-wanted list had been arrested.