This story was updated on Wednesday August 11 to reflect new information
Passengers arriving at the International terminal at Pearson Airport were met with chaos over the weekend due in part to a “work-to-rule” action by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), True North has learned.
Passengers were forced to wait upwards of two to three hours on their plane before being cleared to proceed to the customs hall.
Once permitted to enter the hall, passengers were met with more chaos – including sprawling lines, tired and angry travellers, closed-off machines and little direction or customer service to answer the many questions of frustrated and confused passengers.
The usual triage system used to screen passengers had been removed, and every single arriving traveller was asked multiple questions by border officers.
Passengers were told the reason for the delay was a “work-to-rule” decision by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA).
Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would unilaterally open its border with the United States – a move not reciprocated by US President Joe Biden. To add insult to injury for the Trudeau government, CBSA then announced that its union had voted to strike.
Work-to-rule is a form of job action where union employees do no more than the minimum required by the rules of their contract, intentionally causing a slowdown or decrease in productivity in order to gain the upper hand in bargaining power. In the case of the CBSA, officials were stopping every single passenger and asking more questions than necessary.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my 13 years flying,” an Air Canada flight attendant told True North, exacerbated by being made to force passengers to remain seated even after landing from a long international flight.
Many passengers arriving at the International terminal on Saturday evening missed connecting flights after being forced to wait on their plane before trying to navigate the chaos at customs.
Entire banks of customs machines were intentionally turned off, making the wait even longer than it otherwise would be.
CBSA’s job action compounded with restrictive COVID-19 procedures limiting the number of people permitted in the customs area at Canada’s largest airport, creating an unprecedented and frenzied scene at Pearson.
According to a report in the Toronto Sun, the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA) introduced a “capacity metering program” where passengers are deplaned in groups of 50 every five minutes once a plane arrives at its gate.
On Tuesday August 3, CBSA’s union had served a strike notice to the federal government, but since border officers are considered “essential workers” they cannot institute mass “walk-offs.”
Instead, on Friday August 6, the union started its work-to-rule campaign at more than 100 land ports of entry at the border and the four airports remaining open to international travel.
An eleventh-hour deal was reached late on Friday between CBSA and the Trudeau government to avoid further strike actions, but work-to-rule procedures were still being used over the weekend.
Even though a deal was reached, the strike caused massive delays across the country.
In Ontario, there was a 50-minute delay at the Thousand Island Bridge at Lansdowne, 75 minutes at the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge and 90 minutes at the Peace Bridge in Windsor.
The queue at Pearson International Airport was running upwards of three hours on Saturday evening.
The new deal struck by CBSA includes an average annual wage increase of more than 2% as well as other workplace perks.
A union spokesperson told CTV that the bargaining team would reconvene Tuesday August 10 to discuss the next steps for ratification of the deal. The deal had not been finalized as of Wednesday August 11.
The CBSA chose the worst time to strike – causing massive disruptions at a crucial time when the country is finally taking steps to open up after a year-and-a-half of isolation and closures.