The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld Public Safety Minister Vic Toews responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Tuesday June 12, 2012.

In the midst of growing concerns over deadly gun play in Toronto, the Conservative government has made it easier to smuggle illegal firearms into Canada, an official with the Customs and Immigration Union says.

“The fact is (Public Safety Minister) Vic Toews just cut 1,300 jobs from the Canada Border Services Agency … and there is no question that cutting those jobs makes it easier to smuggle,” Jason McMichael, first national vice-president of the Customs and Immigration Union (CIU), told the Star Monday.

“He has really handcuffed our ability to stop the handguns at the border,” he said.

McMichael noted that Toews was quick to blame a lenient court system in Ontario for Toronto’s gun violence, but was quiet on the impact the nation-wide layoffs will have on trying to stem the flow of illegal guns into the country.

Julie Carmichael, Toews’ director of communications, says the union is “doing what it does best — fear mongering,” Carmichael said the CBSA sent letters to approximately 1,150 employees warning them their jobs may be on the bubble but “we anticipate that only approximately 250 employees will be laid off once all internal processes have been completed.”

“Savings were found by reducing unnecessary spending and duplication of work, not by impacting any vital security operations. These savings will not undermine the Agency’s ability to ensure the integrity of our borders and maintain the level of professional service that Canadians expect,” she stated in an email to the Star. No frontline services at CBSA have been affected, Carmichael added.

The CIU had said that up to 19 of the 72 dogs used by the CBSA across the country, which are trained to sniff out guns, cash and drugs, were given their pink slips and will be put up for adoption, but Carmichael said that isn’t the case. “Contrary to claims from Mr. McMichael, detector dogs at the border are not being cut,” she wrote in a subsequent email. “Rather than engaging in false fear mongering, these big union bosses should work with our government to ensure that our border is open to legitimate trade and travel, but closed to criminals and gun smugglers.”

McMichael said there is little doubt that most of the guns entering Southern Ontario originate in Michigan and Ohio where he says there are some of the most lenient handgun laws.

“I can tell you that at Windsor and Sarnia, a huge percentage of the guns they seize there originate in Michigan and Ohio,” he told the Star.

The relatively easy accessibility to handguns is part of the alarming spike of shooting in Toronto this year, the most recent being last’s shooting spree at a Scarborough barbecue that left two dead and at least 20 injured.

McMichael said just when Canadians need to be reassured to that everything is being done to stem the flow of illegal guns into Canada, the federal government has been laying off front line border officers.

“There is no question that a huge amount of the guns used in crime in Toronto originate in the States,” he said.

In 2011 the CBSA seized 473 illegal firearms, up only slightly over the 452 seized in 2010.

In a 2007 report, the RCMP stated: “The United States is the primary source for smuggled firearms or firearms parts entering Canada, due in part to its proximity, differences in gun control legislation, and a large firearms manufacturing base.”

Liberal Senator Colin Kenny said still can’t understand the Harper government cutting customs officers “particularly given the importance this government attaches to law and order and to public safety and the importance of our relationship with the Americans.”

Kenny, whose political expertise is security, said after visiting 48 ports of entry across Canada two years ago, he discovered that, if anything, the CBSA front line officers are understaffed.

“If we are going to be stopping the guns and the drugs that Canadians clearly don’t want into the country . . . it is going to take people,” he told the Star.

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